Seton Hall’s Brandon Mobley blocked a shot and glared at Wichita State’s Darius Carter. Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead made a three-pointer in front of the Shockers bench, turned, and said “That’s good, coach.”
Even in its present scaled-down form of 10 private schools, Big East teams play with plenty of attitude.
“They weren’t going to come in shy, we knew that,” WSU guard Ron Baker said.
Sometimes their staredowns and big bodies can overcome other deficiencies. That is the wrong approach to take against Wichita State. Seton Hall punched the Shockers early, then unraveled with turnovers, bad shots and bad decisions. The 11th-ranked Shockers kept churning on their way to a 77-68 win over the previously unbeaten Pirates on Tuesday at Koch Arena.
“It was a good butt-kicking,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “Our turnovers really hurt us, and that’s a credit to their defense and they way they got after us.”
Baker led WSU (6-1) with 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Darius Carter added 16 points and a season-high 12 rebounds. Fred VanVleet scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half and also handed out eight assists and grabbed four steals.
Freshman Isaiah Whitehead scored 23, 18 in the first half, for the Pirates (7-1). Seton Hall played its first game on the road and committed 18 turnovers, leading to 24 WSU points.
“The crowd was terrific,” Willard said. “For six of my guys, it was their first time experiencing a college road game.”
The Shocker led 40-25 at halftime and by 21 midway through the second half. The Pirates made the score closer than reality by cutting a 20-point lead to nine in the final five minutes. WSU, after missing 9 of its first 12 shots, made 52.7 percent for the game. It made 6 of 13 threes, overcoming a poor night at the foul line (13 of 23).
WSU’s defense, with 10 steals, provided a string of layups and dunks to jump-start the offense. The goal is 39 deflections for a game and WSU ended the first half with 20. The Pirates, who start two freshmen and a sophomore, made the mistakes the Shockers rarely do, jumping in the air to pass, dribbling into crowded areas and passing without faking first.
"They're experienced, they don't make a lot of mistakes," Whitehead said. "They're guys that played in the Final Four a couple of years ago, so they've kind of been through it all."
The Pirates considered this a season-defining opportunity, a chance to validate their unbeaten start and rise into the national rankings. In the opening minutes, they honored that scenario and led 13-8 after a three by Whitehead.
“We didn’t play well starting either half,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “We were lethargic. We were letting them kind of dictate tempo.”
Rashard Kelly scored twice to bring WSU within one point. Then the turnovers started for the Pirates and their resolve disintegrated. A steal by VanVleet led to a dunk by Baker and a 14-13 lead. Three more turnovers helped WSU go up 21-13 on two free throws by Shaq Morris with 8:18 to play.
“That was a big segment,” Marshall said. “We finally got some deflections and steals. That was the difference.”
Once the momentum turned, the Shockers stayed on course. VanVleet deflected a pass to get Tekele Cotton a dunk for a 30-18 lead. Ria’n Holland grabbed a loose ball and Baker scored to make it 34-18.
“A lot of deflections,” Baker said. “Fred did a good job of recovering off ball screens and closing with his hands high, little things like that to get deflections and get layups on the other end.”
When Seton Hall finished its self-destruction, it trailed 40-25 at halftime. The Shockers scored 17 points off 12 turnovers. After missing nine of its first 12 shots, WSU finished the half making 14 of 19. Baker made 6 of 8 shots to score 13 points.
The Pirates started the second half with a turnover, fittingly. The Shockers kept playing and built the lead to 49-29 on Baker’s three, after the Pirates unwisely tried to press VanVleet. He dribbled by pressure and found Baker all alone. Baker made his final eight shots and improved his season percentages to 54.9 from the field and 53.8 from three-point range.
WSU won its 22nd straight home game and its 30th straight nonconference home game. It came a little tougher than many of the previous ones because of Seton Hall’s physical ability and Whitehead’s scoring. The Shockers, as usual, possessed answers for all problems posed by a visitor.