CARBONDALE, Ill. — Chalk up a first for Wichita State basketball, achieved in the unlikeliest of places.
The Shockers are 5-0 in Missouri Valley Conference road games after Wednesday’s 74-64 win over Southern Illinois at SIU Arena.
No other Shocker team started MVC play with five road wins. To do it at SIU Arena, where WSU once lost 11 straight and nine straight since 1989 makes it even sweeter.
“To be a great team in March you have to be able to win on the road,” WSU senior J.T. Durley said.
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March’s fortunes remain to be seen for the Shockers (17-4, 8-2 MVC). For now, they can take comfort in some of the old guys showing what it takes to win on the road. SIU (10-11, 4-6) led by 14 points late in the first half, completing what WSU coach Gregg Marshall called a layup drill.
So Marshall went with experience. The Shockers finished the half strong with a lineup that looked like earlier in the season with Toure Murry at point guard.
“It was a throwback lineup,” Marshall said.
That lineup — with seniors Graham Hatch and Gabe Blair, and juniors Murry, Garrett Stutz and David Kyles — closed the half on a 6-0 run. Kyles and Hatch, neither of whom started, stayed in the lineup for the second half. The Shockers completed their rally by holding SIU without a point for almost five minutes, enough time to take a 42-40 lead on J.T. Durley’s free throws with 15:37 to play.
“We started the game, and we were flat on defense,” Blair said. “That’s not acceptable. We finally decided to lock up on defense.”
When WSU got serious, its presses and traps exposed SIU’s weakness at point guard. The Shockers played more zone defense than usual, which helped stop dribble drives and kept the ball away from SIU center Gene Teague.
On their final possession of the first half, Blair stole the ball from Kendal Brown-Surles and ended up with a dunk to cut the lead to 40-32. SIU started the second half with five straight turnovers, some caused by WSU’s pressure and some unforced. Point guard Mykel Cleveland picked up his third foul early in the second half, and his absence bothered SIU.
“They really struggle with their point guard play,” Murry said. “Us switching defenses, going to our zone defense, really caused some havoc.”
SIU coach Chris Lowery said the Salukis knew what was coming and worked on it in practice. When the Salukis did beat the press, they got layups. Too often, however, WSU forced turnovers or disrupted the offense.
“We allowed that press to really bother us,” Lowery said. “We're spending nine seconds every time in the backcourt instead of busting that ball through. When they're pressing they want you to take eight or nine seconds to get it across, and then they’re going to pressure you a little bit and they’re going to hope it gets into the shot clock and you have to make a decision.”
WSU grabbed the lead for good when Garrett Stutz drove from the three-point line and scored in the lane for a 48-47 lead. SIU stayed close and WSU almost handed the momentum back with a disastrous stretch. Up 66-62, Kyles missed a dunk. SIU’s Mamadou Seck scored and drew Durley’s fourth foul. Seck missed the free throw, keeping WSU’s lead at 66-64.
Murry scored on a runner. After an SIU miss, Blair made two free throws for a 70-64 lead with 1:59 to play.
SIU didn’t score again. WSU, despite four missed free throws in the final minute, won its fifth straight MVC road game by 10 or more points.
The seniors are the first class to win back-to-back games at SIU since the Shockers did it in 1987 and 1988 under coach Eddie Fogler.
Durley led WSU with 19 points in 22 minutes. Blair added a career-high 18 points. Murry made 5 of 7 shots — no three-point attempts — to score 11 points. He also handed out seven assists with one turnover.
“Playing on the road, our seniors, we’ve been here before,” Blair said. “We knew the things we had to do to win, and it was just employing those things. Our seniors, we make the right plays and everybody else will fall in behind.”