Wichita State picked up two road victories on Wednesday, neither of them easy and both satisfying.
The 20th-ranked Shockers handled Missouri State 62-52 despite giving up a 19-0 run spanning the halves. Meanwhile, No. 17 Creighton lost 74-69 at Drake. The Shockers departed JQH Arena smiling big and knowing they are alone in first place in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“The Valley, we probably don’t get as much credit, but you can’t sleep on any team from the worst team to the best team,” WSU senior Demetric Williams said. “When you go in these different arenas, you have to bring it every night.”
WSU (18-2, 7-1 MVC) played that way briefly in the first half. It fell behind by seven points in the second half before it returned to that mode of operation. Down 33-25 with 15:29 remaining — after leading 25-14 in the first half — WSU made its rally simple. It pushed the ball in the lane to center Carl Hall, who scored nine second-half points. MSU (5-15, 3-5) missed six straight shots after taking a 35-28 lead and turned the ball over twice, all in a five-minute span that handed the Shockers a 44-35 lead.
“They had us on our heels,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “Our guys responded beautifully. Great defense. Excellent rebounding. Better offensive execution.”
Bears freshman Gavin Thurman, from Heights, scored a season-high 21 points, his fourth-straight game in double figures.
Better execution didn’t mean Marshall drawing up clever plays. He called it Green Bay Packers simple. Get the ball to Hall, who overpowered the smaller Bears. Cleanthony Early did his part with eight second-half points, on his way to 17 and a season-high 11 rebounds. Tekele Cotton helped with two second-half putbacks that helped stretch the lead.
After making 7 of 25 shots in the first half — and getting three blocked — WSU made 13 of 28 in the second half. It scored 16 points in the lane in the second half after scoring six in the first half.
“We weren’t going very strongly,” Marshall said. “It did not remind me of the guys I had seen on Saturday (vs. Creighton). In the second half, they changed that.”
Hall made 3 of 5 shots in the second half and 3 of 5 free throws. He turned one of his misses into a three-point play during the rally that turned a seven-point deficit into a nine-point lead with a 16-0 run. The Bears frustrated the Shockers in the first half by helping off Cotton to blanket Hall with an extra defender.
“I was just trying to make stronger moves,” Hall said. “I was begging for (whistles) in the first half, trying to get a call. I should have been pump-faking a little more. I was just trying to stick them in the basket in the second half.”
MSU coach Paul Lusk, starting three freshmen, couldn’t do much to combat WSU’s physical edge.
“Things come easy for them,” he said. “They can literally walk down the floor and pound it inside. Obviously, we don’t have that luxury.”
Lusk did have Thurman, who made 8 of 17 shots and 3 of 6 threes. He scored all of MSU’s points during a 9-1 run to end the first half. He scored seven of its points during a 14-3 run that started the second half.