Sports

Wichita State keeps focus at home

Wichita State guard Joe Ragland didn't know about Missouri State's loss until the next day. So if you think the Shockers huddled around the computer Wednesday, watching the scoreboard and celebrating sole ownership of first place, think again.

"I never really pay attention to other teams and what they do," Ragland said. "I don't watch the games and hope this team wins, because it doesn't affect us. We're just trying to accomplish our goals."

WSU (19-4, 10-2 MVC) is alone in first place in the Missouri Valley Conference men's basketball race, courtesy of its four-game win streak and losses by Missouri State to Northern Iowa on Sunday and Evansville on Wednesday.

That's great, but the Shockers don't want to dwell on their improved position against Illinois State (11-12, 3-9) tonight. They want to play with the same edge as when they needed to make up ground.

"Our mindset is trying to win out and control our own destiny," WSU senior J.T. Durley said.

The Shockers own a one-game edge over MSU and Northern Iowa with six to play. WSU constructed its winning streak with improved perimeter defense and efficient offense. Coach Gregg Marshall sees his team executing concepts it worked on all season in practice.

"Nothing's changed," he said. "We always emphasize defense and rebounding. We've emphasized turnovers from the first practice. They run at the end of practice. They do pushups when they turn the ball over. Maybe they just get tired of doing pushups."

* During a stretch in which the Shockers went 2-2 with home losses to MSU and Northern Iowa, it allowed opponents to make 43.6 percent of its three-pointers (24 of 55).

During wins over Indiana State (twice), Southern Illinois and Bradley, WSU held them to 25.5 percent (14 of 55). Indiana State, the second-best three-point shooting team in the MVC, went 9 of 36 in two games.

"We've prided ourselves on defense these last four games," Ragland said. "Coach wants us to pressure the ball, and any time you pressure the ball it's hard for guys to get good looks."

* The Shockers are averaging 8.7 turnovers in the past four games, including a season-low five at SIU. The high is 14 in a triple-overtime win over Indiana State.

Before that stretch, WSU limited its turnovers to fewer than 10 twice in 19 games.

With a wealth of offensive weapons, the Shockers can keep things simple. The guards don't need to force shots or passes — they want to let the offense create good shots. With a wealth of offensive weapons, a turnover seems like a crime. Durley, Garrett Stutz and Gabe Blair are the starting point with their ability to score on high-percentage shots in the lane.

"We get the ball and push it, and take what we've got," Ragland said. "If they give us something, we'll take it. Other than that, we're going to feed the bigs and let the bigs do what they do. And they'll create for us."

The Redbirds are also playing well. They rebounded from an 0-8 MVC start to win three straight games, two in overtime. Even Wednesday's 53-51 loss at Northern Iowa demonstrates improvement. Illinois State lost its first four conference games by double figures.

Much of the improvement is on offense. The Redbirds scored 70-plus points in wins over Bradley and Drake. When shots started to fall, the Redbirds built some confidence.

"It's definitely higher than it was three weeks ago," coach Tim Jankovich said on Tuesday. "That was our No. 1 issue, and No. 2," he said. "We were shooting it so poorly during that stretch."

Final Four reunion — Members of WSU's 1965 Final Four team are gathering this weekend.

They spent Friday night at Tallgrass Country Club. Tonight, they will be introduced at halftime.

Players such as Dave Stallworth, Mohamed Sharif (Kelly Pete), Dave Leach and Melvin Reed are expected to attend. Betty Thompson, wife of deceased coach Gary Thompson, is also expected.

Suspensions, injuries, times — Southern Illinois, WSU's next opponent, will be shorthanded for the Tuesday game at Koch Arena

Starting center Gene Teague and starting guard Mykel Cleveland, as well as reserve guard Troy Long, are suspended for three games. SIU benched them for a violation of team rules and the university conduct code after an incident on campus Thursday.

SIU plays Bradley on Saturday before road games against WSU and Creighton.

* Northern Iowa senior forward Lucas O'Rear is out for the season with a fractured right ankle. O'Rear hurt himself in Wednesday's win over Illinois State.

He is averaging 6.9 points and 5.7 rebounds. He won the MVC's Sixth Man of the Year in 2009 and 2010.

* WSU's game at Missouri State on Feb. 26 will be broadcast on ESPN2 at noon.

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