There is joy once again in Shocker Country.
Wichita State ended its two-game losing streak Saturday by overpowering Southern Illinois 76-55, heading into the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament with momentum and closing out the first undefeated home regular season (17-0) since 1982-83.
"I don't care who you're playing, that's a lot of games," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "We've had some close ones, but today there was no doubt. We did a better job, figuratively speaking, of stepping on their neck."
WSU (23-8, 12-6 MVC) clinched second place in the final regular-season standings and the No. 2 seed at the MVC Tournament after Illinois State's loss at Northern Iowa. The Shockers will play the winner of Thursday's Evansville-Missouri State in Friday's 6:05 p.m. quarterfinal in St. Louis.
"Playing this good, we've got to find a way to hold onto it," said junior forward J.T. Durley, who led WSU with 21 points and five rebounds. "We want to bottle this up and take it to St. Louis."
Moments after his ceremony for being the only Shocker senior, guard Clevin Hannah scored the first eight points as part of a 10-0 start.
"There was a lot going on for me today and I wanted to just make sure I stayed calm and played my game," Hannah said. "Today, we had fun. We hadn't been having fun."
SIU needed almost 5 1/2 minutes to score, missing 10 of its first 11 shots.
"We just broke down, give (WSU) a lot of credit, there was a lot of energy in the building," SIU coach Chris Lowery said. "It was their senior night and Clevin did a great job... we panicked. Everything was off. It was just a good old-fashioned butt beating."
The Salukis absorbed two huge early blows. Leading scorer Kevin Dillard tweaked an ankle injury four minutes in that kept him out of Tuesday's loss to Creighton and didn't return. Center Gene Teague picked up two fouls in the first five minutes and did not play the rest of the half.
Teague (6-foot-9, 290 pounds), who scored 12 points in 25 minutes in the first meeting, was averaging 10.5 points in his past 13 games. He had one point and one rebound when he fouled out with 3:10 remaining. Freshman guard Kendal Brown-Surles led the Salukis with 15 points.
Leading 38-26 at halftime, WSU saw its lead cut to 40-32 with 18:14 to play before reeling off a 13-2 run to essentially put the game out of reach. WSU had its biggest lead at 68-42 following a free throw from Aaron Ellis with 5:52 to play.
"I thought the fans showed a lot of appreciation for Clevin today, and that was great," Marshall said. "He hit some big threes to get us started then we went for J.T. (Graham) Hatch also hit a couple of big threes for us in the first half."
Missing forward Gabe Blair for the second straight game with a left thigh injury — Blair suited up and Marshall said he could have played if needed — center Garrett Stutz got his first start and delivered with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including eight in the second half.
"Garrett played great, with confidence," Durley said. "He's starting to realize how good he could play."