Key statistics: Wichita State made 27 of 32 foul shots, 22 of 26 in the second half. The Shockers out-rebounded ISU 40-26, the fourth time this season the Redbirds lost on the backboards and the largest margin by nine rebounds.
Records: WSU 23-3, 13-1 MVC; ISU 15-11, 7-7
How the game turned: WSU’s Ron Baker rebounded a missed three by Fred VanVleet, leading to two free throws for a 58-54 lead. Baker grabbed another offensive rebound just over a minute later, leading to a layup by Evan Wessel for a 62-56 lead. The Shockers snagged 16 offensive rebounds, none more important and discouraging for the Redbirds than those two.
Stat that shouldn’t surprise you: Illinois State center Reggie Lynch fouled out for the seventh time this season and 17th time in his two seasons. Lynch is a defensive force and he almost swung the game with his scoring burst in the second half. The Shockers wisely targeted him with drives to draw fouls and it paid off when he fouled out with 4:52 remaining.
Stat that might surprise you: WSU committed twice as many turnovers (14) as assists (7) for the first time this season. It is the fifth time this season WSU compiled a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.
Next up: at Southern Illinois, 7 p.m., Tuesday (Cox 22)
▪ Wichita State didn’t shoot well and didn’t handle the ball as carefully as usual for most of the game. If the thing that usually goes to the home team (free throws) follows form and if the thing the Redbirds won in the first meeting (rebounds) got their way, they win.
The Shockers, however, are a more experienced team. They figured out how to win those battles, even when they faced a deficit in depth and size on the road in front of 9,345 fans.
“I don’t know if we handled the moment real well,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. “You’re playing a team like Wichita State and every game is a big game for them. We’ll have to learn how to handle that.”
That is something WSU coach Gregg Marshall rarely worries about. His team’s pulse rate doesn’t seem to vary, even when the shot clock is running down and the crowd is screaming. Blessed with experienced guards, his team keeps playing.
“They seem flustered just like any other team gets flustered at times,” Illinois State’s MiKyle McIntosh told Randy Kindred of the Pantagraph. “They just know how to work through their frustration. They’ve been in situations like that. They know how to keep going.”
The Shockers showed that in the final three minutes when they scored on six of seven possessions, didn’t turn the ball over against Illinois State’s pressure, didn’t rush shots and grabbed two crucial offensive rebounds. Wessel’s layup that gave WSU a six-point lead, which came late in the shot clock and after the Shockers patiently worked the ball through a zone defense, put the Redbirds in scramble mode in the final minute.
“It was a really mature, veteran ball club playing basketball the way it’s supposed to be played,” Marshall said. “I told them that in the locker room. That was one of the most beautiful possessions. It had nothing to do with coaching. It was just players making the right play, the right pass.”
▪ The Redbirds will got to St. Louis 0-6 against Northern Iowa, WSU and Indiana State. It lost the three home games by a total of nine points.
There is plenty of athletic abillity on the roster. When a team starts a freshman, two sophomores, a junior transfer and a senior with one season in the program, things aren’t always going to go smoothly. The Redbirds take a few too many rushed, unnecessary shots and a team like WSU will take advantage of those wasted possessions.
“That game was right there,” Muller said. “I kept thinking we were about to go on a run. It’s hard to go on runs when you can’t get rebounds.”
The Redbirds lost their third straight game. While the schedule gets easier, they fell into fifth place, a game behind Evansville. They end the regular season at Evansville.
“The frustration level for our team not being close to its potential right now is very high,” Muller. “And we’re not. Bottom line is, we’re not right now and that’s not OK.”
▪ There was a time this season when winning a game at the foul line seemed scary for the Shockers. During a three-game stretch against Seton Hall, Detroit and Alabama, they shot 56.5 percent, 64 percent and 47.1 percent.
Marshall never seems to worry much about foul shooting, although his teams work on them plenty in practice. Last week, the Shockers had to make 30 free throws at the end of practice. If they missed two in a row, they had to run cross-court sprints.
Not surprisingly, WSU is shooting much better in MVC games — 72.2 percent. That has something to do with players improving and something to do with the best shooters getting the most attempts, because they’re playing the most minutes.
“You’ve got to get the right guys to the line, that’s for sure,” Marshall said. “Generally, you shoot the free throws the way you’re going to shoot the free throws. It all evens out. The good news is I won’t get radio calls on Monday (complaining) about our free throws.”
He should not. WSU made 16 of 20 against Indiana State, 7 of 10 against Missouri State and 15 of 17 against Northern Iowa, to list some recent efforts. In MVC play, WSU has endured only two real brick-fests from the line, both in easy wins.
“It’s something we knew that we weren’t up to par early in the season,” Wessel said. “You’ve just to got to go up there with confidence.”