Key statistics: WSU shot a season-high 60 percent, making 30 of 50 shots, and committed six turnovers. Cleanthony Early scored 23 points and Fred VanVleet handed out seven assists with one turnover.
How the game turned: Early’s three-point play started a 12-3 run that gave WSU a 33-17 lead in the first half. The Shockers scored three points on four straight possessions, twice on three-point plays and twice from behind the arc.
Records: WSU 14-0, 1-0 MVC; SIU 4-10, 0-1
WSU’s bench looks a lot stronger when one guy (at least) scores. It doesn’t need to produce a lot of scorers, because the starters can do so much. Somebody, however, needs to be a threat to score to go along with the defense and physical play that Evan Wessel, Kadeem Coleby and Chadrack Lufile can supply. Nick Wiggins can be that scorer and on Thursday he contributed a season-high 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting. “I felt good out there,” Wiggins said. “The coaches and my teammates, they’ve been feeding me confidence. It takes a load off my mind. I want to play well for my teammates.” Wiggins made two threes in a game for the first time this season and is 4 of 6 the past three games. He also had two steals. “He got a big deflection that led to a basket when we were kind of sputtering in the second half,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “He got his athleticism into the game.” SIU coach Barry Hinson missed the team’s previous game and some practice time after the death of his son-in-law on Christmas. Those circumstances, in his mind, worked against his team. Tonight, I’m going to point the finger at me – my teams have always played off my energy,” he said. “When you’re 52 years old, you ought to be mature enough to at least know how to fake it and get your guys energized, and I couldn’t do that.” SIU led 3-2 and 7-6, but couldn’t sustain that and trailed by as many as 20 in the first half. ”We didn’t play inspired, we were flat, we were paralyzed with fear,” Hinson said. “When you play a team that’s in the top 10, those teams should get the other team’s best effort in every way.” SIU’s Desmar Jackson is a talented scorer who scored 19 of the most ineffective points you will see. SIU needed a big night from Jackson and he played passively, especially in the first half. Freshman Sean O’Brien looks like a building block after scoring a season-high 19 points. He was 3 of 14 from three-point range entering the game and made 3 of 4 on Thursday. SIU is good shooting team (47.3 percent), but weak from the outside (28.7 percent). It made a season-high 53.1 percent of its threes (7 of 13). ”Guys that don’t normally make shots were making them tonight, with O’Brien and (Jalen) Pendleton making deep threes,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “They did a very good job of coming at us and driving the ball.” WSU is the highest-ranked team to play at SIU Arena since No. 8 Tulsa in 1982. WSU played SIU as a ranked for the sixth time and improved to 4-2. WSU goes for No. 15 against Northern Iowa on Saturday. The Panthers have played the toughest schedule in the MVC. While they went 6-6 in non-conference games, the losses didn’t beat them down mentally. UNI opened MVC play with a rout of Bradley 80-46 on Wednesday. The word on the Panthers is that they are more athletic than in recent seasons with the addition of Wes Washpun and Jeremy Morgan. Seven schools remain unbeaten – Wisconsin, Syracuse, Iowa State, Oregon, Arizona, Ohio State and the Shockers.
Next up: vs. Northern Iowa, 1 p.m. Saturday (FSKC).