Wichita State needed more mental work than physical work to prepare for Saint Louis and get rid of the loss to Utah. The Shockers devoted significant time to film study in practice the past two days.
The Shockers needed to rebound better, because coach Gregg Marshall always wants to rebound more, and because Utah out-rebounded them Wednesday and that is always taken as a personal insult.
“Instead of drilling the rebounding, it was showing it to them and then threatening them to not let it happen again,” Marshall said. “Just blatantly letting your guy run down the gut and get the ball — seeing it is believing.”
Count Saint Louis among the believers after Saturday’s 81-52 loss to the eighth-ranked Shockers at Intrust Bank Arena in front of an announced sellout of 15,004 fans. WSU dominated in almost every way possible to recover impressively from Wednesday’s 69-68 overtime loss at No. 25 Utah.
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“Guys saw some eye-opening things in that Utah game and (Saturday) was an improvement,” WSU guard Ron Baker said. “Checking out was huge. We beat them on the glass pretty heavily … and that’s our motto.”
In the two previous regular seasons, WSU (5-1) was out-rebounded eight times and it came back to out-rebound its next opponent every time and by an average of 11.1 rebounds. That did not bode well for Saint Louis (5-3), a team with eight freshmen and missing all its starters from last season.
WSU overwhelmed Saint Louis 41-20 on the backboards and didn’t give up an offensive rebound until the second half. The Shockers scored 32 points in the lane and 13 off its 12 offensive rebounds.
“We swallowed the bitter pill and we came out ready to play,” Marshall said.
The Shockers overpowered the Billikens in the first half and led by 20 points at halftime. They started the second half on a 13-0 run. That left plenty of time for dunks and development. The Shockers dunked a lot. Both teams played reserves liberally — at one point all 10 players were new to NCAA Division I and eight of them were freshmen.
Baker led WSU with 18 points. Evan Wessel added a career-high 15 points. Freshman Rauno Nurger, who hadn’t scored in the past four games, also scored 15. The Shockers made 10 of 18 three-pointers with Baker making 3 of 4 and Wessel 3 of 5.
Marcus Bartley led Saint Louis with 13 points.
Saint Louis coach Jim Crews played his freshmen extensively in the second half because his starters were ineffective. His starters combined for 11 points and not one made more than one shot. Guard Austin McBroom, who averages 13.1 points, went 0 for 4 from the field. The contrast between WSU’s guard play and his caught Crews’ attention.
“Their guards are superb,” Crews said. “I would be hard pressed to find a combination of those three guards better than what they are. They’re competitive. They make other guys better. That makes it very tough.”
The Billikens tried to trap and pressure WSU into turnovers, as it did last season when it forced 18 in a home loss to the Shockers. Baker, Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton prepared to sliced up the attempts for easy baskets. The Billikens fell behind and started to play faster and force shots.
“We knew their defense was going to try to speed us up,” Baker said. “Same coach and same philosophy. You’ve just got to read what the defense gives you and go from there.”
The Shockers read everything with ease.
The Shockers led 14-10 when Nurger scored on a pass from Wessel to start a 20-3 run. Cotton, driving to the lane with little resistance, made three straight free throws. A dunk by Rashard Kelly gave WSU a 24-11 lead.
Even good plays quickly went bad for Saint Louis. Two Billikens trapped Baker and forced a turnover near half court. The Billikens hustled down court and Austin McBroom missed a quick shot. Shaq Morris grabbed the rebound and threw an outlet pass to VanVleet for a layup.
McBroom came out and Crews explained that his bad shot gave the Shockers an easy basket and a 26-11 lead.
“We get anxious offensively and we shoot the ball too quickly at times,” Crews said. “That gets us in trouble. It gets us in trouble defensively, because it’s coming at you quickly the other way.”
WSU led 45-25 at halftime.
The second half showed more of the same, a 13-0 run that gave WSU a 58-25 lead before the Billikens scored with 15:21 to play.