Everything about Wichita State’s road wins look familiar, except the names.
Instead of Toure Murry or Malcolm Armstead making the big plays, it’s Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. Instead of Ben Smith or Joe Ragland making game-changing three-pointers, it’s Cleanthony Early.
What those Shockers started, way back when winning on the road wasn’t taken for granted, continues in much the same manner. The 12th-ranked Shockers defeated Saint Louis 70-65 on Sunday afternoon at Chaifetz Arena.
WSU survived a season-high 18 turnovers and trailed by 10 points in the first half. It trailed by seven points with under seven minutes to play. No matter. The Shockers (8-0) made all the right plays in the final minutes, quieting a near-sellout crowd of 9,031 and depriving the Billikens (6-2) of a marquee victory they desperately wanted.
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“It shows how tough we are,” WSU guard Ron Baker said. “This was a big win to put on our resume.”
The Shockers struggled to move the ball against Saint Louis’ physical half-court traps and seemed on the verge of unraveling after back-to-back turnovers helped the Billikens go up 58-51 with 6:40 remaining. While WSU wasn’t flawless, it made the plays Saint Louis failed to in the final minutes. The Shockers scored on four straight possessions to take a 64-63 lead. In the final minutes, they outscored Saint Louis 6-1 with the Billikens missing three shots and a free throw.
“Road warriors,” WSU center Chadrack Lufile said. “A lot of guys stepped up. We used every weapon we have on our team and we were unselfish.”
Baker led WSU with 22 points, one short of his career high. He scored 20 or more points for the fourth straight game. Lufile added a career-high 12 points and Early also scored 12.
Dwayne Evans led Saint Louis with 18 points. On Tuesday, it lost to No. 10 Wisconsin 63-57 in the Cancun Challenge.
“You only get so many opportunities for statement wins,” Evans said. “We’re playing well, but we’ve got to pull one of these out.”
A switch to a zone defense late in the game kept Saint Louis out of the lane and off the foul line.
“We’ve been struggling with the zone,” Saint Louis guard Mike McCall Jr. said. “We don’t get aggressive against the zone. It’s like we freeze.”
WSU took a 66-64 lead on Baker’s bank shot in the lane. Up by one point, WSU’s Fred VanVleet dribbled through the press to find Early for a layup and a 68-65 lead. After a Saint Louis airball, VanVleet made two free throws with 3.2 seconds to play.
“It was a great basketball game – two very, very tough teams,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “I’m just glad it was a 40-minute game and not 43 because their run was coming next.”
Saint Louis trailed 51-49 when its defense forced a rash of turnovers by the Shockers, keying an 8-0 run. The Shockers started to get the line and they made six straight free throws to cut the lead to 58-57. Early’s three-pointer from the wing gave WSU a 60-58 lead with 3:46 remaining.
Saint Louis took a 61-60 lead on a three by Jordair Jett. Early made another three from the wing to regain the lead, 63-61. Jett’s short jump shot tied it 63-all.
WSU took a 66-64 lead on a bank shot by Baker, left alone near the basket after he drove and passed to VanVleet in the corner. The Billikens, scrambling on defense, left Baker open for a just a second. Baker wasn’t open for long and he caught the ball even with the backboard before bouncing off a defender and banking in a shot.
“At first, I thought Fred was going to shoot it, because I was out of bounds,” Baker said. “It was kind of an awkward place to get the ball wide open. I looked and I just made a play.”
VanVleet almost fell out of bounds.
“I think the help defender, that slid over to take him, went back to his own man and that’s he got so open,” VanVleet said.
Saint Louis missed two threes, but the Shockers couldn’t track down either rebound. Early fouled Jake Barnett on an inbound play with 30.1 seconds remaining. Barnett made one of two free throws to cut WSU’s lead to 66-65.
The Billikens opened the game with an 8-0 run and closed the first half with a 13-4 run to lead 29-28 at the break. Neither team shot well in the first half — WSU 12 of 29 and Saint Louis 11 of 28. WSU missed 10 of its first 12 shots to fall behind 16-7. When the Shockers tightened up their pick and roll defense, they forced 11 straight missed shots and went up 24-16.
Saint Louis’ defense increased its pressure and forced three turnovers, scoring after each, to regain the lead 25-24. WSU, averaging nine turnovers a game, committed eight in the first half.