Ron Baker took most of the teasing from student sections in recent seasons for Wichita State. Northern Iowa fans taunted him with a picture from his curly-perm hair days. They accused him of wearing cargo shorts, liking the Backstreet Boys and a multitude of other style offenses.
Nobody figured Rauno Nurger as the successor to Baker, but there he was on Sunday at McLeod Center as the prime target of the nearby hecklers dressed in yellow and purple overalls. They yelled at him about a selfie, Facebook and his haircut.
“I have no idea (why), but I heard them yelling my name,” he said. “To be honest, it just makes me play harder.”
Sunday’s box score
Nurger, a junior backup center, played hard and well in a heartening display of depth in WSU’s 80-66 win. He made 6 of 7 shots, mostly on lefty hooks. He mixed in a killer three-pointer late in the game to score 13 points.
Wichita State won its seventh straight road game and remained unbeaten in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Shockers (14-3, 4-0 MVC) handled the Panthers despite foul trouble that forced them to play small lineups and rely on Nurger for most of their inside presence.
WSU guard Landry Shamet scored 17 points, 14 in the first half. Conner Frankamp added 11 points, making 3 of 4 threes, and sparked a crucial run to the end the first half with a steal and fast-break three.
UNI (5-10, 0-4) lost its sixth straight game, its longest skid since 2000-01.
Jeremy Morgan led the Panthers with 15 points. Klint Carlson added 12 and 10 rebounds. UNI’s poor shooting continued with a 7-for-24 performance from three-point range. It also made 15 of 16 foul shots.
Shocker starting center Darral Willis and backup Shaq Morris spent most of the game in foul trouble, opening the door for Nurger.
“We have three starting bigs,” Shamet said. “All of them can do a lot of the same things.”
Nurger isn’t as imposing physically as Morris or as gifted athletically as Willis. He scores with a patient, methodical move into a lefty hook that everybody knows is coming, yet few are able to defend. The Panthers declined to double team WSU’s bigs, as they often do, and Nurger went to work.
When UNI doubled him late in the game, he passed to Frankamp for a three-point basket.
“I like that move a lot because I feel like I can create more space between me and the defender,” Nurger said. “It gets me a better option to get my shot off. I’m sure they’re scouting me, but ….”
WSU made 11 of 20 three-pointers and handed out 15 assists on its 27 baskets. The Shockers made their first 15 foul shots before Zach Brown missed the final one of the game.
WSU led by eight points twice in the first half and 39-32 at halftime. It led by 11 early in the second half. Each time, the Panthers sliced into the edge. That represents progress for both sides. The Shockers refused to let UNI grab the lead. The Panthers, despite trailing for the game’s final 30 minutes, kept the Shockers working until they pulled away for good in the final six minutes.
“Their guys really stepped up and made some plays,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “They made important shots at important times. They just kept doing it.”
Those important shots started with Shamet getting loose for catch-and-shoot threes in the first half. He scored in double figures for the fifth straight game, a stretch in which he is 16 of 33 from three-point range.
“I think he’s finding his stride now,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “He’s certainly given us some quality minutes, on both ends.”
The Shockers beat back a UNI rally late in the half with a three by Austin Reaves and Frankamp’s pullup on a break for a 39-32 lead. In the second half, Frankamp’s jumper restored a 10-point edge and Nurger followed with his three to make it 68-55 with 5:44 to play.
“We played good basketball for 30 minutes, or so,” Jacobson said. “We were going to have to play good basketball for all 40 minutes. They forced us to have to do that.”