Shockers drop MVC opener

NORMAL, Ill. — Wichita State survived the O Show in the first half. In the second half, the Shockers couldn’t keep pace with Illinois State’s Osiris Eldridge.

Illinois State handled WSU 72-57 with Eldridge scoring 26 points on Tuesday night in the Missouri Valley Conference opener at Redbird Arena. The loss halted WSU’s nine-game winning streak.

Eldridge spent warmups sinking jumpers with headphones on, buried in his preparation for the game. Once the game started, the Shockers couldn’t take him out of that comfort zone. He made 9 of 15 shots, 6 of 9 from three-point range. When he didn’t shoot, he drew so much attention that other Redbirds got open and he found them for five assists.

“Osiris is a dominant player — I think he’s the most physically gifted, athletic player in this league,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “He was just dynamite.”

Eldridge previewed his second half with 10 points in the first half. The Shockers (11-2, 0-1 MVC), led 30-29 at halftime, thanks to their own hot shooting.

In the second half, Eldridge and his teammates played more aggressively. The Shockers, who hadn’t trailed by more than four points in the second half since Nov. 23 against Pittsburgh, couldn’t match that effort. Losing is disappointing, but not as disappointing as not making a serious run at the Redbirds in the final 10 minutes.

“We didn’t step up like we’re supposed to,” WSU guard Graham Hatch said. “They got tougher and we didn’t stand up to that.”

Illinois State (10-2, 1-0) outrebounded WSU 31-27, the first time this season the Shockers lost that battle. The Redbirds held WSU to nine baskets in the second half and scored 13 points off eight turnovers.

Those are new developments for a WSU team that entered the game beating teams by an average of 17 points. The Shockers piled up those numbers by out-rebounding teams and turning turnovers into points. They could outscore teams when they needed to, or turn up the defense and win with size and strength.

The Redbirds, who committed 10 turnovers, didn’t fall prey to any of that.

“The bigger, stronger, more physical team won,” Marshall said.

Put Eldridge at the top of that list. He got any shot he wanted and made it look easy against defenders Hatch, Toure Murry and David Kyles.

“He was feeling it tonight,” Hatch said.

Eldridge passed up some shots in the first half to get other Redbirds going. It paid off with Alex Rubin tying a career-high with 10 points and Tony Lewis adding 13. In the second half, Eldridge did it himself, making 4 of 6 threes.

The Shockers had a chance to make it a game in the second half when Gabe Blair rebounded with WSU down 43-39. Eldridge snuck behind him and stole the ball for a quick layup.

“Osiris is a sneaky guy,” Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich said. “His job is to get back, and he defied the coach and decided to take it upon himself to steal the ball and make a big play. Sometimes the players are definitely smarter than the coaches.”

After WSU’s Garrett Stutz traveled, Austin Hill made a three for a 48-39 lead. Stutz responded with a dunk to cut the lead to seven points. After an Eldridge three made it 10, the Shockers didn’t make another serious challenge.