Way back in December, Wichita State looked a little vulnerable. Maybe. Other teams had some hope, at least.
The Shockers needed overtime to win at Hawaii. They lost to George Washington in Hawaii. Five days later, they beat Drake by a mere eight points. Maybe, just maybe, the Shockers weren’t going to roll over everybody again.
With January near an end, those hopes look premature. While the toughest part of the Missouri Valley Conference season remains, No. 14 WSU is back to its dominant, confident look. The Shockers routed Drake 74-40 on Sunday at Koch Arena, its sixth straight double-digit win and third by 20 or more points.
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WSU wanted to make a statement, for several reasons, and they made one and underlined it against the overmatched Bulldogs and an unfortunate coach who irritated the Shockers with his praise for an MVC rival.
“Clearly, we were trying to make a point,” WSU guard Ron Baker said.
Pay attention, MVC opponents. That Dec. 31 game at Drake — a 66-58 WSU win — looks irrelevant.
“We probably caught them at a good time, I think they just got back from Hawaii and they had some troubles getting out,” Drake coach Ray Giacoletti said. “They look to me like they’re playing their best basketball now.”
The Shockers probably didn’t need any added incentive to hammer the Bulldogs, a team they defeated for the seventh straight time by an average of 21 points. Giacoletti gave them plenty when he praised Illinois State — a team the Shockers dislike — earlier this season. After a Jan. 7 loss at Illinois State, 81-45, he told reporters “I think (the Redbirds) are more talented than Wichita State at each position 1 through 12.” After a 64-56 loss on Jan. 21, he told reporters “(The Redbirds) are as athletic a team as there is in the league, 1 through 12.”
Those words did not go over well with the Shockers, who don’t like an unfavorable in the slightest with Illinois State.
“It’s a prideful bunch,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “It really makes me look good. But it kind of defaces them, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t like that.”
Not at all.
In his two seasons in the MVC, Giacoletti praised WSU often and he did again after Sunday’s game. Regardless, the Shockers seized on his slight and never let up.
“He stated in the media that someone in the Valley was more athletic than us — and it wasn’t one of Coach Marshall’s favorite teams in the Valley that he said it about,” Baker said. “So (Marshall) was definitely talking about it before the game and the prep during the week, that we needed to come out and make a statement. I think we did so.”
Giacoletti seemed surprised his comments caused such a reaction.
“It was no disrespect to Wichita State whatsoever,” he said. “We got beat at Illinois State and I made some comment about ‘1 through 12 they might be as athletic as anybody in our league.’ Next thing I know I’m getting emails and stuff. That’s all I said.”
Wichita State’s landmark streaks continued: a 26th straight MVC regular-season victory, a 28th straight at home and a 13th straight MVC home victory.
Baker led WSU with 15 points and Tekele Cotton added 10. Fred VanVleet handed out six assists to go with eight points and four steals.
Freshman guard Reed Timmer led Drake with eight points. The Shockers held Drake center Jacob Enevold to four points and four rebounds, down from 12 and 15 in the first meeting.
WSU made 9 of 23 three-pointers and out-rebounded Drake 31-25. It forced 17 turnovers, 10 more than the Bulldogs committed in the meeting in Des Moines. Drake made 2 of 10 three-pointers and shot 38.5 percent for the game.
The Shockers looked energized defensively from the start and Giacoletti looked concerned when his team fell behind 5-0. He didn’t need a timeout, but he knew the Shockers were capable of making it a rout quickly.
Drake’s problems running its offense became obvious when center Jacob Enevold tried to dribble near half court, while the Shockers covered better ball-handlers, and he lost the ball to VanVleet. VanVleet dribbled past him and fed Darius Carter a lob pass for a layup and a 9-2 lead. Evan Wessel caught Giacolleti’s attention when he dove on the floor for a loose ball, displaying the kind of energy Giacoletti’s hoped for from his team.
“What we talked about coming into here, was that it was going to test your substance as a human being, as a competitor,” Giacoletti said. “There’s very few teams in the country that play as hard as Wichita State does. They play the right way. First time the ball is on the floor tonight, two Wichita State players are on the floor.”
Drake’s turnover problems continued. The Bulldogs turned the ball over on three straight possessions to let WSU go up 20-8. Late in the half, VanVleet stripped Reed Timmer as he rose up for a shot. That turnover led to a three by Rashard Kelly and a 35-17 lead.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over eight times in the first half, leading to seven WSU points, and trailed 36-19 at halftime. WSU made 14 of 28 shots and 5 of 14 threes in the first half.
“We kept talking about ‘we’ll bend, but we’re not going to splinter, we’re not going to break,’” Giacoletti said. “We splintered a little bit.”
Drake made 7 of 20 first-half shots, missing all five of its three-pointers.
The Shockers started the second half with a 12-5 run to go ahead 47-24. Cotton made it 51-29 with a one-handed dunk, past two defenders and soaring over a third, that woke up the crowd. Soon after, Marshall cleared his bench and newcomers and walk-ons finished off the Bulldogs.