Wichita State seems determined to contend for the Missouri Valley Conference title the hard way.
The Shockers lost a third home game in MVC play on Tuesday, falling 56-53 to Southern Illinois at Koch Arena.
The loss drops WSU (20-5, 11-3) into a tie for first place with Missouri State with four conference games to play. Three of those are on the road, including the season-ender at MSU.
For WSU coach Gregg Marshall, the scene reminded him of home losses to MSU and Northern Iowa. Snow kept some fans away, deadening the atmosphere a bit. With solid defense and patient, efficient offense, those teams slowed tempo, quieted the fans and frustrated the Shockers. Marshall didn't blame the fans for staying home. His team is experienced enough that it shouldn't matter. Instead, the Shockers played sloppy basketball _ 15 turnovers _ and let another team dictate the tempo on their home court.
"Very similar to Missouri State, and Northern Iowa in a lot of ways," Marshall said. "The weather was terrible. The crowd was not full. It's totally on me and this basketball team. We missed shots. We missed free throws."
SIU's defense had a lot to do with that. The Salukis (11-14, 5-9) played the game at their pace. They didn't let the Shockers get many fast breaks and even fewer open shots, much like in WSU's 59-56 loss to Missouri State.
WSU shot 19 of 53 (35.8 percent) shots and missed 12 of 15 three-pointers. The Shockers also struggled at the foul line, missing six of 18 free throws.
"They got out and pressured us and scouted us to a T," WSU senior J.T. Durley said.
SIU coach Chris Lowery, who has been in plenty of games as the conference leader, saw the situation get the best of the Shockers late in the game.
"First place is on the line," he said. "It was a different pressure for them than it was for us. As they watched the clock wind down, they kind of tensed up a little bit."
Marshall couldn't disagree.
"Perhaps," he said. "It looked like it."
WSU's Toure Murry didn't look he felt any pressure when he pulled up for a three on a break to give the Shockers a 47-46 lead with 6:09 remaining.
The Shockers, however, didn't score again until Joe Ragland's layup with 2:18 to play. Two turnovers by Murry and missed threes by Ben Smith and David Kyles allowed SIU to take the lead.
After Ragland's basket, WSU's offense again faltered. Durley missed an off-balance shot with a chance to take a lead. Down 52-49, Ragland turned the ball over on a charging foul.
Smith followed in a miss by Durley to cut the lead to 54-51. A turnover by SIU led to two free throws by Durley with 12.2 seconds to play, making the score 54-53. SIU's Carlton Fay, fouled with 6.3 seconds remaining, made his free throws to give the Salukis a three-point lead.
Murry rushed up court and tried to get off a three. Guarded, he passed to Smith, whose desperation shot missed badly at the buzzer.
SIU flipped two key statistics from a 10-point loss to the Shockers on Jan. 26. In that game, WSU committed five turnovers and SIU 17. On Tuesday, WSU committed 15 and SIU 13. In Carbondale, Durley, Gabe Blair and Garrett Stutz combined for 44 points. On Tuesday, 16.
"We did a good job of not letting them bully us on the block," Lowery said. "They just destroyed us at our place."
The Shockers missed their chance to take charge in the first half. Once they let SIU recover, the game stayed close.
A block by Blair led to a fast break and a basket for Murry to put the Shockers up 21-11.
SIU responded with a 9-2 run, with Fay scoring seven of those points, to cut the lead to 23-20. Two free throws by Fay with 1:39 to play made it 25-24. After a WSU basket, SIU scored again to make the halftime score 27-26.
Turnovers and missed free throws cost the Shockers late in the half.
With a 10-point lead, WSU turned the ball over on a charging foul and Durley missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Up 23-15, WSU's Demetric Williams missed a free throw, failing to finish off a three-point play. Stutz missed two free throws with 2:55 to play.
The Shockers made 11 of 26 shots in the first half and committed eight turnovers.
Fay scored 14 first-half points, 11 in the final six minutes of the half. He finished 21 points. Mamadou Seck added 14, including two baskets in the final 1:33.