It had been some time since Alex Harden and Michelle Price were on the court in the waning moments of a game at Koch Arena.
It had been some time since these Shockers, undefeated in the Missouri Valley and riding a program-best winning streak, had played a meaningful second half.
And who would have thought it would be against Evansville, a program without a winning season in the Valley since 2008, to provide the push?
But there they were, Harden and Price, completing the requirement of executing crucial plays to turn a surprisingly competitive game into WSU’s 17th consecutive victory, a 66-48 triumph.
“I think we needed this game,” WSU coach Jody Adams said. “We’ve been winning by such large margins, we had to prove again to ourselves in a close game we can win off defense and rebounding.”
On a day when the two other teams with winning records in the Valley lost — Indiana State and Northern Iowa — the Shockers gained a two-game cushion in the league standings at the turn of the round-robin schedule.
Wichita State (18-2, 9-0 MVC) certainly didn’t have its best on Sunday, as its usual flurry to begin games was absent. Evansville (7-13, 2-7) actually led for the first 13 minutes of the game.
“We’re used to throwing the first punch all the time,” Adams said. “When somebody out-hustles you to the first 50-50 ball, you’re like, ‘Hmm...we’re used to doing that.’”
“It was a wake-up call,” Price agreed.
Even when the Shockers made their run, using a 14-5 one to break a 15-15 tie, they didn’t deliver it with the vigor that usually elicits a knock-out blow.
Instead, the Purple Aces were allowed to linger and were a blown layup away from cutting WSU’s lead to four points with four minutes remaining.
WSU scored the next 16 points, the first eight coming from Price, to register another double-digit victory.
“We looked at each other and we said, ‘It’s four minutes, we’ve got to play together,’” Harden said. “We fired it up and changed our mentality and changed everything we were doing.”
Another obstacle to overcome was the absence of starter Kelsey Jacobs, held out as a precaution with a muscle strain, who Adams said afterward was the “glue” of the team.
Reserve Valerierose Agnello (6 points, 4 rebounds) was solid in 29 minutes — the second-most of her career — but Jacobs’ presence in WSU’s press trap and in the high post were missed.
Price, who came up with her eighth double-double of the season with a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Harden (10 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists) carried the Shockers through their lapses.
“It allowed us to see what we are really made of,” Harden said. “Can we fight back with somebody pushing back at us? In games we are blowing people out and have 30-point leads, we calm down and relax. They didn’t give in at all, so it was good for us.”
Halftime—Wichita State 29, Evansville 23. Three-point shooting—UE 2-13 (Gustin 1-1, Dickey 1-5, Weatherford 0-1, Taylor 0-2, Ellerson 0-2), WSU 3-17 (Decker 2-7, Mi. Dapprich 1-2, Harden 0-2, Bonner 0-3, Preston 0-3). Rebounds—UE 39 (Ellerson 9), WSU 43 (Harden, Price 10). Assists—UE 8 (Weatherford 4), WSU 14 (Harden 5). Fouls—UE 18, WSU 16. A—1,706.