ST. LOUIS — Wichita State possesses the most depth in the Missouri Valley Conference. The three-games-in-three-days format of the conference tournament seemed a perfect place to show off.
That depth doesn’t matter much if the starters don’t show up. The Shockers will wait for a spot in the National Invitation Tournament after losing 61-54 to third-seeded Indiana State on Saturday in the semifinals at Scottrade Center. Indiana State plays top-seeded Missouri State in today’s championship game.
“Too many turnovers,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “Too many missed shots.”
Many of those came from the starting lineup. Center J.T. Durley scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. The other four — Aaron Ellis, Toure Murry, Graham Hatch and Joe Ragland — combined for six points, six rebounds and 2-of-19 shooting.
“That’s not good enough,” Marshall said.
The second-seeded Shockers (24-8) allowed the defense to keep them out of the lane and bait them into jump shots. Indiana State center Myles Walker muscled Durley and Garrett Stutz out of their comfort zones near the basket and didn’t require help to do it.
“I felt I could overpower them,” Walker said.
The Sycamores (19-13) turned the Shockers into a finesse team that couldn’t shoot (7 of 29 from three-point range) and didn’t get to the foul line (7 of 9). Ragland, who can loosen up defenses with drives, found paths to the hoop closed. With Walker discouraging points in the paint, the Sycamores happily watched the Shockers settle for outside shots.
“It definitely played to our advantage,” Indiana State guard Jake Odum said. “We wanted to focus on them kicking the ball out and shooting contested threes instead of getting easy buckets inside.”
That is just what WSU did during the game’s turning point. Down 44-41, the Shockers missed four straight threes. Indiana State made its three shots in that stretch to lead 51-41.
“It’s hard to stay composed with the momentum going back and forth,” WSU junior David Kyles said. “We took 29 threes and didn’t even knock down 10. We just didn’t hit shots.”
Walker, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound junior, scored 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
“He worked hard on the offensive end and got deep post touches,” Durley said. “When you get it that deep, it’s stress on the defense.”
WSU wasted its chance early in the second half to put stress on the Sycamores. Durley’s three-point play 34 seconds into the half gave WSU a 30-22 lead. The Shockers didn’t score again until Kyles made a free throw with 14:28 to play. They didn’t make a basket until Kyles’ three with 12:37 to play cut Indiana State’s lead to 40-34.
Odum played the difference-maker during that stretch. He intercepted a pass by Murry and scored to cut WSU’s lead to 30-27. He stole another pass, then took a charge from Ragland that lead to basket by Walker and a 31-30 lead. The Sycamores never trailed again.
“We wanted to come out in the second half, have energy, and set the tone,” Odum said. “They have a lot of talent, a lot of athleticism and we were just focusing on getting stops.”
The Shockers, as they did in a loss at Missouri State a week ago, started making shots in desperation time. Hatch’s three cut Indiana State’s lead to 55-49. Kyles made one to give the Shockers hope, down 57-54, with 31 seconds to play. The Sycamores made four straight free throws and the Shockers didn’t score again.
WSU swept the Sycamores in the regular season, so coach Greg Lansing knew things needed to change. WSU must supplement its half-court offense with layups and open shots off turnovers and rebounds. Keep the Shockers playing slow, and they struggle.
“They are so good in transition,” Lansing said. “We talked about it a lot at halftime: Don’t give them transition baskets and you’ll like the results.”
That’s a fitting description of almost every loss this season for WSU.