Haleigh Lankster made all four of her free throws in the first half for Wichita State's women's basketball team during the first half against Creighton on Sunday. Those points allowed the Shockers to build a comfortable lead but they ultimately decided nothing.
Lankster made all four of her free throws in the second half, too. Those were anything but meaningless — especially the final two, which helped WSU fight off a late Bluejays rally to win 65-58 at Koch Arena.
The Shockers are off to their first ever 4-0 start in Missouri Valley Conference play thanks in part to the free throw shooting of Lankster and fellow veteran guard Jessica Diamond. They combined to go 12 for 12 from the line, including 4 for 4 in the final minute.
The same mentality that keeps Lankster and Diamond from becoming too impressed with making program history is the calmness that allowed the duo to keep a handle on a game that could have gotten away from them.
"It was just staying poised," Diamond said. "We knew that they were going to come at us aggressive because of the late-game situation. We knew we had to be strong with the ball and go at them. We kept our heads and went at them and we knocked down our free throws."
WSU didn't trail after taking an 8-7 lead four minutes in, but they couldn't turn double-digit advantages into Creighton hopelessness. An 11-point WSU lead was trimmed to 33-30 early in the second half, and the Shockers couldn't pull away after going ahead 58-44 on a three-pointer by Lankster with 5:17 to go.
Creighton's sense of urgency prompted the Bluejays to turn to their perimeter game, where they made consecutive three-pointers, followed by a pair of free throws, to cut WSU's lead to 60-56 with two minutes remaining.
"It was a battle, and it was a 40-minute battle," WSU coach Jody Adams said. "I'm really proud of (Diamond and Lankster). I think when things get shaky for us, they're definitely our rocks. Haleigh getting to the free throw line and getting to the rim like she did obviously puts pressure on their defense."
Lankster's three-pointer was WSU's final basket. The Shockers scored their final seven points from the line, missing two in that stretch but becoming stabilized by Lankster and Diamond.
Creighton's defense was most often organized to keep WSU out of the lane, but Lankster, Diamond and Krystle Henderson were effective in getting to the basket. When Creighton sagged heavily, the Shockers built a big lead by making threes. They made three in the second half after attempting as many in the first.
"That's just being in the flow of the game, knowing what shot you need to take at that time," Lankster said. "With me personally, what I need to do is get to the rim first, then my outside game will open up, and that's what I wanted to do."
WSU was sparked by its bench, particularly Alex Harden, who had five points and six rebounds and delivered a steal and basket that keyed a 13-2 run in the first half.
The Shockers outrebounded the Bluejays 39-28 without a significant height advantage, as the 5-foot-7 Diamond led WSU with eight rebounds. She also contributed four assists and a steal.
Diamond, a junior, and Lankster, a senior, insist their goals haven't changed in light of the 4-0 start. They laugh about the days of the recent past, when the Shockers were cellar-dwellers, and hope to distance themselves from them as much as possible.
"It means a lot," Lankster said. "I'm very excited about it, I just want more wins. I think this team is humble about it, and I think we'll get those."
CREIGHTON: Moore 0-2 0-1 0, Nelson 3-10 8-9 14, Fujan 2-3 6, A. Jensen 3-6 0-1 9, Tritz 5-8 0-0 11, S. Jensen 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 2-6 1-1 6, Corbin 0-0 0-2 0, Garrison 3-7 0-0 7, Akin-Otiko 2-7 1-3 5, Kamphaus 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-51 12-20 58.
WICHITA STATE: Turner 2-3 1-2 5, Gordon 3-6 2-2 8, Sanchez 2-5 0-0 5, Diamond 4-8 4-4 13, Lankster 5-10 8-8 20, Jones 1-8 2-2 4, Henderson 2-4 1-2 5, Jacobs 0-0 0-0 0, Harden 2-4 1-2 5. Totals 21-48 19-22 65.
Halftime—WSU 33, CU 28. Three-point shooting—CU 6-17 (Jensen 3-6, Tritz 1-2, Johnson 1-4, Garrison 1-4); WSU 4-9 (Lankster 2-3, Sanchez 1-1, Diamond 1-3, Jones 0-1, Henderson 0-1). Rebounds—CU 28 (Moore, Tritz, Akin-Otiko 5); WSU 39 (Diamond 8). Total fouls—CU 21, WSU 20. Assists—CU 10 (Tritz 4), WSU 12 (Diamond 5).