Gregg Marshall was happy. Dan Muller was happy. Everybody was happy Wednesday night at Koch Arena.
Marshall, Wichita State’s basketball coach, was happy about the way the Shockers defended against Illinois State, holding the Redbirds to 32.8 percent shooting during a 74-62 win.
And Muller, Illinois State’s first-year coach, was happy with just about everything, even in a 12-point loss. That goes to show you how miserable the season has been for the Redbirds since Missouri Valley Conference play started. They’re now 0-6 after being picked in the preseason to finish second.
What I saw was a lot of uneven play, stretches where neither team could throw it in the ocean, faulty ball-handling and passing and an ISU team that has to be among the most disappointing in the country.
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But hey, who I am to rain on anybody’s parade?
If Marshall and Muller were happy, then I’m happy.
The box score did tell a more flattering story for the Shockers, who shot nearly 47 percent, out-rebounded the Redbirds by eight, made eight three-pointers and had 19 assists to go with 27 baskets.
WSU also clamped down defensively and is now limiting its opponents to 39.4 percent shooting for the season.
“Being a defensive-minded coach, and knowing that we struggle at times offensively, that’s very gratifying,” said Marshall, whose team bounced back from a loss at Evansville on Sunday. “Defense is a prerequisite, really. If we’re not doing that, we’re going to struggle. I don’t like to struggle; I like to do well. And defense is something my teams have always strived to do.”
Illinois State missed all 10 of its three-point shots in the first half, a statistic that made Muller laugh as he describes his team’s exasperation. I’m telling you, there was something in the air.
Here’s a first-year coach who came home to Illinois State, where he was 9-0 against the Shockers as a player from 1994-98. The Redbirds started season well, with a non-conference record of 7-3 and the losses coming against No. 1 Louisville, Wyoming and Northwestern.
But something has gone awry with Illinois State, which was beaten by Missouri State and Drake in its two previous games before Wednesday night.
“We did not play very well offensively, which is a bit of an understatement,” Muller said. “But I’m happy with the way we competed. I’m happier than I’ve been in a little while, actually.”
Koch Arena is no place to get well, and to the Shockers’ credit they didn’t seem to be looking ahead to a Saturday home showdown with Creighton, a game WSU might have to win to have a chance at repeating as MVC champ.
It won’t surprise anyone that Marshall was able to inject some bounce into the Shockers on Wednesday by going to his bench. I’ve never been around a coach who better knows how to build depth and then what to do with the depth he has built.
Junior Nick Wiggins nailed three first-half three-pointers when the Shockers, so stagnant offensively, really needed them.
In the second half, it was reserve forward Jake White who stepped up, scoring all 11 of his points in seven minutes. White also had five rebounds and showed his wile as a player who understands positioning.
White can’t jump and doesn’t run all that well, but the kid has a brain.
“He’s in the right place at the right time,” Marshall said. “He got his first shot of the night blocked and then he didn’t check out (Jackie) Carmichael on a rebound once. But after that, man, he was tremendous. He puts himself in the right position with his spacing and cutting.”
The Shockers’ bench, which included a rusty but willing Carl Hall coming off a hand injury that had sidelined him for a month, contributed 23 points and 20 rebounds.
There is no end of the bench for Wichita State. Marshall expects everybody who puts on a uniform to contribute and gives them the opportunity to do so.
It’s one of the biggest reasons why WSU is playing above its ceiling this season, especially considering key players like Hall, Ron Baker and Evan Wessel have been sidelined for extended periods of time.
The Shockers were not good in losing at Evansville, but wasn’t a mulligan somewhere along the line to be expected? Especially with the way this team had battled without some of its best players.
Getting Hall 23 minutes against Illinois State, even though he didn’t make a field goal and had only two points, will be a boost for the Creighton game.
Wichita State is going to need all hands on deck to stay with the Bluejays, who have been playing lights out for a while now and have, in junior forward Doug McDermott, perhaps the best player in the country.
It’ll be a crazy atmosphere Saturday. I know this: I’m going to be there.