Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet made the first one, early in the second half. Ron Baker made another 41 seconds later. Then VanVleet again and pretty soon everybody made three-pointers.
Just like VanVleet said it would happen.
“It’s funny how that works,” he said. “I was telling the guys at halftime all it takes is one and it’s contagious.”
Wichita State’s three-point shot, missing since St. Louis, returned at the perfect time. The 11th-seeded Shockers rolled past Vanderbilt 70-50 on Tuesday in the First Four at UD Arena in front of 11,728 fans.
Wichita State (25-8) advances to play sixth-seeded Arizona (25-8) on Thursday in Providence, R.I. in the first round of the South Regional. The winner of that game plays either third-seeded Miami (25-7) or 14th-seeded Buffalo on Saturday for the right to advance to a Sweet 16 game in Louisville, Ky. Vanderbilt (19-14) ends it season on a three-game losing streak and has not won an NCAA game since 2012.
The Shockers did quick, and happy, interviews while shoving their gear into backpacks. They had a plane to catch in around 90 minutes after the game so they could get to Providence as quickly as possible. They go with the knowledge their defense travels and their shooting touch didn’t permanently disappear after missing 22 of 24 in a loss to Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
WSU pushed it about as far as possible by missing all five threes in the first half. Then they got hot and made 7 of 14 in the second half to break open a defensive struggle. All the extra work, all the attention paid to honing shooting touches paid off at about the last possible moment.
“We made none in the first half,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “We made seven in the second half. We win by 20. You’ve got to knock down some shots in this game, and we haven’t been doing that. But I still have faith in my guys. I have faith in my shooters.”
VanVleet and Baker both scored 14 points. Anton Grady added 11. The Shockers made 7 of 19 three-pointers and 19 of 25 foul shots.
Reserves Joe Toye and Riley LaChance both scored 10 for the Commodores, who shot 30.2 percent for the game and missed 16 of 19 threes. Leading scorer Wade Baldwin scored nine points, five below his average. Center Damian Jones, plagued by fouls, scored five, nine below his average, in 26 minutes.
“We shot it poorly from two,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “We shot it poorly from three and we shot it poorly from the foul line.”
After going 10 for 18 from the foul line in the first half, Vanderbilt made 5 of 8 in the second. After Jones made a free throw with 9:17 remaining the Commodores didn’t make another until 2:52 remained.
WSU extended its lead from 47-46 to 64-48 during that span. Keeping Vanderbilt off the line allowed the Shockers to get an offensive flow going and robbed the Commodores of one of their best assets.
“I think the reason for the run was we weren’t fouling them, getting them to the free-throw line,” Baker said. “Our bigs started contesting without fouling. The momentum started to shift slowly and we just kind of grasped it and kept on rolling.”
WSU was able to extend its lead late in the game while stealing rest time for Baker and VanVleet. A three by Conner Frankamp started WSU’s final run, giving the Shockers a 54-48 lead. Markis McDuffie followed with another. Frankamp’s next three made it 60-48 and VanVleet launched himself off the bench to celebrate during the timeout.
There is no secret with the Shockers. Defenses are going to swarm Baker and VanVleet and make others prove they can score enough to tilt the game. On Tuesday, the Shockers did that. Frankamp scored eight points after scoring five in two MVC Tournament games. Zach Brown made his only three to beat back at Commodores run in the second half. Rauno Nurger bailed out WSU’s big men with six points in 17 solid minutes.
“It speaks volumes to our depth,” VanVleet said. “We worked so hard on those young guys. For them to step up in those moments is huge for our team. This time of year, that’s what you need.”
The Shockers won an NCAA Tournament game – First Four games earn the same $1.7 million unit as others this week – for the fourth straight season. They reached 25 wins for the seventh straight season, topping Cincinnati’s Missouri Valley Conference modern record of six.
The charter plane was scheduled to leave at 2 a.m. Wednesday. Passengers were instructed to pack their bags before the game so the traveling party of around 150 could move quickly and get to the next site, the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence.
“It’s already Wednesday,” WSU center Shaq Morris said. “We’re going to try to sleep on the flight and everybody’s going to try to be ready. We’ve got a game tomorrow (Thursday).”
WSU scored the first 11 points of the second half, nine on three-pointers, to go up 41-30. VanVleet broke a 2-for-29 stretch that started in the MVC Tournament. Then Baker made one from the top of the key. VanVleet, left open from the wing by Vanderbilt’s zone, swished a third for a 41-30 lead.
The Commodores didn’t score until 15:18 remained in the game, a three-point play by Baldwin to cut WSU’s lead to 41-33.
Vanderbilt started an 8-2 run with a three-point play by LaChance. His three-pointer cut the lead to 47-43, forcing a WSU timeout and sending Baker hustling back into the game. A three-point play by Jones narrowed WSU’s lead to one point before a three by Zach Brown pushed it back to four.
Threes by Frankamp and McDuffie, both late in the shot clock, grabbed the momentum back for WSU and gave it a 57-48 lead. Another Frankamp three made it 60-48, giving the Shockers more cushion while VanVleet rested.
The Shockers missed eight of their first 10 shots and trailed 12-7. VanVleet’s baseline jumper and basket by Rauno Nurger cut the lead to 12-11. Turnovers and eight straight missed shots dragged down the Commodores.
McDuffie’s tip-in gave WSU a 13-12 lead.
The Shockers had their most success when they pushed the ball to beat Vandy’s zone defense before it set up. A layup by Rashard Kelly, off a long pass by Baker, gave WSU a 24-20 lead. A McDuffie free throw made it 25-20, WSU’s largest lead of the first half.
WSU got little from Morris, who fouled on Vandy’s first posession and came out. He returned to play a few more seconds and fouled again and returned to the bench to total one first-half minute. Nurger scored and drew two fouls to give WSU some bonus production. Fouls also robbed Vanderbilt of its center. Damian Jones played seven scoreless minutes and fouled twice.
The five-point lead disappeared after a miss by Baker and a shot-clock violation. A three-point play by Joe Toye, who beat Zach Brown with a back-cut, gave Vanderbilt a 26-25 lead. Jeff Roberson’s follow shot made it 30-25.
The Shockers scored the final five points of the half on foul shots, four by Baker, to tie it 30-all.
WSU missed all five of its three-pointers and made 9 of 26 shots. It survived by making 12 of 16 free throws, seven by Baker for all of his first-half points. Grady scored nine points and VanVleet added six.
Vanderbilt made 9 of 24 shots, 2 of 10 behind the arc. The Commodores missed eight of their 18 free throws.
Toye led the Commodores with 10 points, matching his career high, and Luke Kornet added eight.
Wichita State vs. Arizona
- What: NCAA first-round game
- When: About 8:20 p.m. Thursday
- Where: Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence, R.I.
- Records: WSU 25-8, UA 25-8
- Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
- TV: TNT