No. 14 Wichita State didn’t need any drama this season at JQH Arena. The Shockers dispatched Missouri State 76-53 in a solid, efficient manner that won’t be remembered by the weekend.
What should be remembered is WSU’s evolution into a killer second-half road team. Winning on the road is nothing new for the Shockers, but outscoring the home team this convincingly is significant, even on their resume. WSU outscored MSU 37-20 in the second half, bringing its three-game conference road total to 114-68.
“I think some of it has to do with how amped up teams are to play us in the first half,” WSU gaurd Fred VanVleet said. “When we come to town, it’s a little different scenario for them. In the second half, things kind of settle down.”
By settle down, VanVleet means the Shockers maintain when the home team fades. Anything close to even is leading for the Shockers, who are always a missed shot and a turnover or two from erecting a decisive run.
“We’re playing some pretty good basketball and our depth is starting to show itself a little bit more,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “There’s no slack off.”
WSU (17-2, 7-0 Missouri Valley Conference) won its 25th straight MVC regular-season game, extending its modern record, and its 13th straight Valley road game to improve to a nation’s best 44-9 in road games since the 2010-11 season. MSU (8-11, 2-5) lost its fifth straight game and its third straight at home.
Last January, then-No. 6 WSU trailed the Bears by 19 in the second half before winning 72-69 in overtime. On Wednesday, the Bears, missing leading scorer Marcus Marshall, pushed the Shockers for a few minutes with an offensive burst to start the game. Minus Marshall, who quit the team Friday, MSU possessed little hope of sustaining that run.
MSU’s crowd of 8,671, a season-high, came armed with maroon-and-white pinwheels, white glowsticks and the traditional “Wichita is not a STATE” shirts. Like the Bears, the gimmicks faded early in the second half. With about 10 minutes to play, the “I believe that we will win” chant by the Bears students fizzled out for lack of belief. With about five minutes to play, MSU fans started leaving.
Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton each scored 15 points for WSU. Darius Carter added 14, 10 in the second half. WSU made 11 of 21 three-pointers and out-rebounded MSU 40-24.
Dorrian Williams and Chris Kendrix both scored 10 for MSU. The Bears made 7 of 25 shots in the second half, missing all four of their threes. For the game, MSU shot 40 percent and missed 8 of 10 threes.
“They challenged every shot and made it hard to get catches,” Williams said. “It’s 40 minutes of basketball, and that’s something we’ve got to get better at.”
Marshall thought the Bears out-hustled and out-toughed his team in the first half. That changed quickly in the second half as WSU’s defense took hold. WSU extended its defense, forced the Bears to waste time fighting to start a play and rarely allowed an open shot.
“We’re starting our offense with 17, 16 seconds left on the shot clock and that doesn’t leave much time to operate,” MSU guard Austin Ruder said.
After a quiet first half, Carter scored WSU’s first eight points in the second half to produce a 47-37 lead. Carter’s burst held the lead and WSU’s outside shooters expanded it. Baker made two threes — both after VanVleet rebounded a miss and ran the break. Rashard Kelly, not normally an outside shooter, made one from the corner on a pass from VanVleet. An 11-3 run, capped by Carter’s layup, gave WSU a 58-42 lead.
On both of the breaks, WSU forced shooters into tough shots and VanVleet took advantage of the defensive work. As usual Cotton played a role by forcing Ruder into a bad miss.
“Any time you can push them out far on the court, away from the basket, on their first entry, it’s a hassle,” WSU guard Ron Baker said.
With an expanding lead and little threat from the Bears, Marshall played deep into his bench and liked the results. Kelly scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds. Bush Wamukota grabbed three rebounds and blocked a shot. Zach Brown’s defense earned him 10 minutes. MSU dressed nine players and lacked the depth to keep up.
“We were able to play everyone and got some really good contributions,” Marshall said. “Our bench gave us some nice minutes.”
The Shockers made 6 of 11 three-pointers in the first half and led 39-33 at the break. Cotton and Baker both made two threes. Cotton and VanVleet both scored 11 first-half points, off-setting a lack of production from the WSU bigs. MSU made 13 of 25 shots with Kendrix leading the Bears with nine points.
A 4-0 run by Kelly gave WSU the lead for good in the first half at 19-16. Carter’s basket gave WSU a 23-16 lead. The Shockers pushed the lead back to seven points, 31-24, on two foul shots by Cotton. After Gavin Thurman’s airball, the Shockers beat the Bears downcourt to get Cotton an open three for a 34-24 lead. MSU called timeout to regroup.
The Bears did with a dunk by Loomis Gerring and a three by Williams to cut WSU’s lead to 34-29. Cotton’s three made it 37-29. VanVleet gave the Shockers a six-point edge at halftime with a twisting layup with two seconds remaining.