Bob Lutz: Sycamores beat WSU at its own game

Who was that in those white uniforms Tuesday night?

Not Wichita State. Not the ball-hawking, glass-busting, elbow-greasing, loose-ball gobbling Shockers, who never back down from a fight.

It wasn’t so much that WSU backed down against Indiana State at Koch Arena. It was more like the Shockers just didn’t have the energy to put up their dukes.

A tougher, gamer, smarter Sycamores team rose to the occasion in a hostile environment and against a team that was feeling pretty good about its No. 15 ranking.

When Indiana State had closed out a 68-55 victory – and handed WSU its most lopsided home loss since a 70-56 defeat at the hands of Stanford in the second round of the 2009 NIT – the Sycamore players whooped and hollered.

Who could blame them?

It was an impressive showing by a good team, one that might have snuck up on Wichita State. It’s heady stuff to be ranked as the 15th best team in the country, and it looked like the Shockers’ heads were pretty full.

This is a team that likes to play street ball. They’re hard and determined and constantly revolving 78 times per minute.

Indiana State successfully slowed the Shockers down to 33 with a combination of zone and man-to-man defense, depending on whether the Sycamores scored on their possessions.

If only the Shockers had shot 33 percent.

Instead, Wichita State made a season-low 27.1 percent from the field. And get this: the Shockers were just 7 of 31 from inside the three-point line.

WSU’s best inside scorer, 6-foot-8 senior Carl Hall, took two shots in 21 minutes. Malcolm Armstead, Demetric Williams and Cleanthony Early were the ones firing away against Indiana State, but were a combined 9 of 35 from the field and made 5 of 21 three-point attempts.

“So many things were not the norm tonight,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said, so baffled by his team’s performance that he couldn’t be angry, only disappointed. “We got it to within four points a couple of times and then we would not get a stop, we don’t make a basket, we miss a free throw, we turn the ball over. It was just a number of things.”

Indiana State used a 21-8 flurry in the final 7:07 of the first half to lead 39-28 at halftime.

It sent a mild buzz through Koch Arena, but if WSU fans know one thing about their team it’s that the Shockers are usually a second half buzz-saw.

Sure enough, the blades were turning as the second half started. Wichita State scored the first seven points and for the first time in a while, Indiana State was dazed.

Then Sycamores guard Dawon Cummings, who played at Coffeyville Community College, hit the shot of the night for ISU, a three-pointer that was like releasing a pressure valve for the Sycamores.

“I didn’t know if we were ever going to score again,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “Dewon’s got some guts. We talked a lot before this game about courage and intestinal fortitude.”

Both attributes the Shockers have been beating teams over the head with. Nobody – nobody – leaves it on the floor like Wichita State.

It’s time to amend that, probably. It should be nobody except Indiana State, which seemed a step quicker and a half-inch higher than the Shockers all night.

WSU did hang around during most of the second half. After Indiana State increased its lead to 10, the Shockers got it as close as two, 50-48, after two Cleanthony Early free throws with 7:26 left.

There wasn’t a person in the near-sellout crowd of 10,216 that didn’t expect WSU to seal the deal. Except, that is, for those feisty Sycamores.

Why, I must ask, was there only a near sell-out to see the nation’s No. 15 team? What’s up with that?

Nothing the crowd could do, and it did its best, could pull the Shockers through.

“We got it right there and then it felt like they would make a play to stop our run,” the Shockers’ Williams said. “Every time we were right there, they made a play. We couldn’t get over the hump.”

So now what?

Wichita State is still 19-3, still in a tie for the lead in the Missouri Valley Conference, still a darn good basketball team.

But Indiana State came into Koch Arena and took it to the Shockers, ending their 19-game home winning streak. It’s not the Sycamores weren’t dangerous. They improved to 14-7 and have beaten ranked teams Miami (Fla.) and Mississippi.

Still, to see Wichita State handled on its home floor the way it was handled Tuesday night is cause for concern.

All Marshall can do is to regroup and prepare his team for what is sure to be a tough road test Saturday at Northern Iowa, a team that will want to make amends for a 66-41 loss to the Shockers at Koch Arena in late December.

That one is going to tell us a lot about WSU. Was the Indiana State loss a fluke, or a funk that won’t easily be reversed?