Wichita State’s Carl Hall rarely misses when he shoots against Creighton. He also usually gets plenty of shots.
The Shockers need to keep Hall busy in Saturday’s winner-take-all game for the Missouri Valley Conference title. WSU (24-6, 12-5) can win the title, the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and repair its NCAA Tournament resume against Creighton (23-7, 12-5).
All of that looks realistic if Hall can duplicate past performances against the Bluejays. In three meetings, he averages 14.3 points and 10 rebounds, while making 65.5 percent of his shots. Getting Hall involved takes center stage after he took five shots — one a desperation three-pointer — in Wednesday’s 59-56 loss to Evansville at Koch Arena.
“We’ve got to get him the ball more,” WSU guard Tekele Cotton said. “We’ve got to find him when he’s open and deliver him the ball. When he gets the ball around the rim, he’s almost automatic.”
Hall, a 6-foot-8 senior, dented the Bluejays for 17 points and 13 rebounds in two games at Koch Arena. Last season, fouls limited him to 22 minutes in Omaha and he still managed nine points and four rebounds in an 89-68 win.
Creighton features two of the MVC’s best big men in center Gregory Echenique, last season’s MVC Defensive Player of the Year, and forward Doug McDermott, a national Player of the Year candidate. Hall enjoys playing legitimate big men. Many Valley schools throw forwards disguised as centers at him, players who are better suited to shoot from the outside than bang in the lane.
“They motivate me because they play so hard,” Hall said. “The game is so physical with Echenique and McDermott that they allow you to play physical.”
In recent games, the physical edge goes to the Shockers.
WSU grabbed 22 offensive rebounds in January’s 67-64 win. It needed every one of those to overcome a poor shooting night. The Shockers outscored Creighton 23-5 on second-chance points and 44-20 in the lane.
“It was a one-possession game in spite of how we rebounded down there,” Echenique said. “We let them get a lot of layups and second opportunities. If we come in with the mind-set that we’re going to clean that up, we’ll have a chance.”
The Shockers wasted a chance to clinch a share of the title with Wednesday’s loss. Now they must beat the preseason favorite in front of a sold-out crowd on senior day.
"We have to do it the hard way,” Cotton said. “We’ve got to go over there Saturday and get it done."
A title and an NCAA berth represent goals that seemed lofty, to some, at the start of the season. Now the Shockers are close, even after Wednesday’s disappointing loss. They raised expectations to the point that defeat stung and now they must quickly regroup.
“We can’t dwell on that last game,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “They can recall some of the fun times we’ve had this year — a five-game win streak, walking out of Indiana State and Illinois State victorious."
WSU let one defeat turn into a three-game slide in early February. A similar slump will cost it an MVC title and damage its NCAA resume.
"I talked to everybody after the game, and it’s a fresh start,” Hall said. “New month. This is the month that matters that most."