Key statistics: The Shockers held Loyola to 27.6-percent shooting in the first half, the kind of performance that has become expected. WSU continued its offensive surge by shooting 56.5 percent in the first half and 53.8 for the game, its third straight over 49 percent.
MVC play is good for WSU’s offense, which is 48.1 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from three-point range in nine games. WSU produced a season-high 22 assists against the Ramblers.
“We’re just playing basketball,” WSU sophomore Rashard Kelly said. “It’s nothing you can really draw up for the offense. We’re all just having fun playing. Nobody’s trying to be Magic Johnson.”
How the game turned: Both coaches pointed toward a stretch in the second half when the Shockers boosted their lead to 20 on Conner Frankamp’s three.
This game ended when the Shockers went up 8-0 and then 16-6.
The Ramblers needed some hope to start and WSU’s defense took that away. Loyola’s first shot was a contested three near the end of the shot clock. Shaq Morris blocked the first of his three shots. The Ramblers missed two guarded threes, then Earl Peterson missed a shot at the rim.
Loyola couldn’t run its offense and missed layups as the pressure of WSU’s defense took hold.
Records: LU 9-12, 2-7 MVC; WSU 15-5, 9-0
Stat that might surprise you: Fred VanVleet, two baskets. Ron Baker, three baskets. WSU scores 80 points. Not a big surprise, but not easy to do, either.
Stat that shouldn’t surprise you: Thirty-nine bench points from WSU. WSU’s reserves made 12 of 21 shots and two of the misses were Bush Wamukota jumpers in garbage time.
Freshman watch: Markis McDuffie may be retired from the Freshman watch. He plays like at least a sophomore. He is one of the favorites for MVC Freshman of the Year and Sixth-Man Award. No player has won both.
The toughest competition is for the Sixth-Man Award, with Evansville’s Mislav Brzoja and Leo Vincent of Southern Illinois enjoyed strong seasons.
The last Shocker named Freshman of the Year? Randy Burns in 2002. Sixth-Man? Ben Smith in 2011.
Why they’re All-Americans: Baker turned in eight points, seven rebounds, six steals and five assists in 28 minutes. VanVleet produced eight points, eight assists, two rebounds in 25 minutes.
Those two — you’ve probably heard — provide the example for WSU’s unselfishness. The Shockers put on a beautiful display of passing and Shockers such as Morris and Kelly made nice plays for teammates. That starts when Player of the Year candidates aren’t worried about getting their shots.
“They take six shots (each),” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “They just don’t really care. They just want to play. Look at the other (stat) columns, though.”
Baker scored WSU’s first basket on a move that Ramblers coach Porter Moser said his team prepared to defend.
“We were talking so much about them driving baseline,” Moser said. “Baker popped, he just turned, swept and drive. Went right to the rim. That kind of set the tone, right there.”
Rotation watch: Shaq Morris scored in double figures in three straight games for the first time in his career.
He took advantage of the small-ball Ramblers for 12 points and six rebounds, both matching his season highs, and a career-high three blocks. He is 14 of 18 from the field in the past three games, most on dunks and shots around the rim. That is what the Shockers need from a center and VanVleet is expert at feeding him the ball at the right moment for him to finish strong.
With WSU’s shooters spreading the court, Morris should get plenty of lanes to the basket and he is decisively taking advantage of them.
Marshall told them before the game that a good performance means a day off from practice on Thursday.
“I was like ‘Oh, that’s all I need to see,’” Morris said. “Let’s go.”
VanVleet told Morris he wanted 12 points, six rebounds, two blocks and two assists.
“I got an extra block,” Morris said.
▪ VanVleet’s eight assists move him into the top 10 of the MVC career list with 552. He trails No. 9 Ryan Sears (1997-01) of Creighton by 18 assists.
VanVleet got one on a lob to Kelly for a dunk, a play that stands out even for a frequent play-maker.
“Throwing lobs is fun for me and for whoever’s catching it,” he said. “I just like seeing other guys score and get easy baskets and get the crowd going. At home, when the crowd gets into it, it can be a huge thing for us and momentum and rattling the other team.”
Around the Valley
Third-place Evansville plays at second-place Southern Illinois on Thursday (ESPN3).
This is a dangerous stretch for the Aces, who lost Sunday at Indiana State and play host to WSU on Sunday. They are not a deep team and they will face the well-rested and deep, deep, deep Shockers on Sunday after playing two taxing road games this week.
Of course, it’s also an opportunity. The Aces could set the stage for a tight race in February with two wins this week.
Next up: at Evansville, 3 p.m. Sunday (ESPNU, KEYN, FM-103.7)
After the Aces pushed WSU before falling 67-64 earlier this month, this should be a close game at Ford Center. However, that is just the kind of thinking the Shockers relish. They are playing great basketball, lengthening their rotation and growing confidence with each game. Their legs are fresh after playing three of four at home and minimizing minutes in all of them.
Their goal will be to send a statement to anybody who thinks the Aces are a real challenger.