Key statistics: The Shockers are on a defensive roll after holding Drake to 25-percent shooting and Illinois State to 27 percent. They held Drake to fewer baskets (11) than turnovers (15) for the second time this season and the fourth time in the past three.
WSU 83, Drake 54
WSU 74, Drake 40
WSU 67, Drake 47
WSU 74, Drake 48
How the game turned: Ron Baker’s three, with the shot clock ticking down, put WSU up 29-19. That shot signaled the game shifting from scrappy Drake sticking close to WSU pulling away. He hit another three, off a screen, to make it 34-21.
The Bulldogs went scoreless in the final 5:23 of the first half, allowing WSU to score 13 unanswered points.
Never miss a local story.
Records: WSU 18-6, 12-1 MVC; DU 6-19, 1-12
Stat that might surprise you: The Shockers made 9 of 17 free throws after entering the game shooting 71.6 percent. Baker and VanVleet both missed one and both are in stretches where they look automatic. VanVleet had made 35 of 38 in his previous seven games. Baker had made 35 of 40 in his previous 10.
Stat that shouldn’t surprise you: Fifteen Shockers played, 13 scored and eight scored between six and 11 points.
“When healthy, we’re one of the more balanced teams around,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “My teams have always been like that. That’s why I think Fred or Ron have got to be (MVC) Player of the Year. If we continue this run and win the league by a margin like we have now, then one of those guys, regardless of how many points … because of all that they do. The floor game. The passing.”
Marshall has nothing to worry about. VanVleet will win Player of the Year. Baker will be a first team All-MVC pick. Players such as Evansville’s D.J. Balentine and Southern Illinois’ Anthony Beane are compiling great stats. I’ve seen nothing to indicate they will bump VanVleet.
Freshman watch: Markis McDuffie scored seven points on 3-of-5 shooting. Forward Eric Hamilton got some early playing time in the rout and played eight minutes.
“Eric’s got a chance to be a really good player, he’s just got to calm down and learn how to play within our system,” Marshall said.
Why they’re All-Americans: Baker scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds to go with five assists (three turnovers). VanVleet scored six points and recorded five assists, with one turnover.
We’ll let Marshall continue his campaign.
“We’re not trying to manufacture 16 shots for Fred VanVleet every night, nor Ron Baker,” he said. “They play the game. They play both ends. They’re tremendously unselfish. I think they’re the best players in the league.”
Rotation watch: Forward Rashard Kelly grabbed a career-high eight rebounds, beating his previous high by one.
“Last two games we got out-rebounded and we were tired of it,” he said. “We put our foot down tonight and that’s how we want it the rest of the season.”
▪ The timing and trust between VanVleet and Shaq Morris seems to grow each game. Morris usually gets the ball in good positions and scores quickly, without the need for dribbling.
“He’s doing his work early and he’s being very active and mobile,” VanVleet said. “When he’s fresh, he’s pretty nimble on his feet. He sets good screens. We’re looking for him and he knows if he gets good position we’re going to give it to him.”
The second basket of the game is a great example. Morris pushed Drake center Dominik Olejniczak up the lane, clearing space behind him. Baker lofted a perfect pass, leading him to the basket for a layup.
Morris, who made 5 of 6 shots, is shooting 59.6 percent from the field. In MVC games, he ranks third in the conference at 58.8 percent.
▪ When official Randy Heimerman made a call that Drake fans didn’t like, one hammered him with the insult “Enjoy the play-in game,” a reference to working the Thursday games at the MVC Tournament. I’m not sure if the lowest-rated officials are assigned to those depressing games, but you get the idea.
The irony of the statement was lost on the Bulldogs fans, who will also work a Thursday game in St. Louis.
▪ Olejniczak played 27 minutes, his most since early in the season. Drake coach Ray Giacoletti started him in the previous game and is all in on the 7-footer from Poland.
Morris schooled him a few times, which is a typical introduction for a freshman. Olejniczak showed a soft touch and a surprising burst of speed. He’s going through the typical big-man awkwardness and foul trouble stages. The Bulldogs have nine freshmen and sophomores on the roster, so the vision is for Olejniczak to develop as the inside threat with a group of shooters.
“We’re going to go with him,” Giacoletti said. “He’s the future. He played against men tonight, aggressive men. So he got manhandled a time or two defensively … but he’s going to learn as we go along.”
▪ Tuesday’s 26-point margin is its most in 24 games at the Knapp Center. The previous mark was 22 in a 75-53 win during the 2004-05 season.
Next up: vs. Northern Iowa (14-11, 6-6), 11 a.m. Wednesday (ESPN2) — The Panthers take a four-game win streak into Wednesday’s game against Missouri State (10-14, 6-6).