Wichita State made the best of 44 missed shots and its reward is a share of first place in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Nobody recommends that strategy, but it works with a team of ferocious rebounders. The Shockers — no surprise to No. 12 Creighton — are that and more and they slipped past the Bluejays 67-64 on Saturday at packed and blacked-out Koch Arena.
“They killed us on the boards,” Creighton forward Doug McDermott said. “It seemed like we couldn’t get any rebounds.”
That is becoming the theme of these matchups. The Shockers out-rebounded Creighton in both games last season and their edge in quickness and strength showed again on Saturday. WSU grabbed 22 offensive rebounds and scored 23 second-chance points.
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With that effort, the Shockers survived bad shooting from the field and the line. They missed 19 of 23 three-pointers and 10 of 19 foul shots.
“The numbers don’t add up,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “The defense and rebounding was just good enough. Not too many teams can hold Creighton to 64.”
The Shockers (17-2, 6-1 MVC) snapped Creighton’s 11-game win streak and moved into a tie with the Bluejays (17-2, 6-1).
“Our problems started when the ball went up to the rim,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “To come in here and win, you’ve got to have a little more toughness.”
Shocker toughness is rarely questioned and Saturday showed why. Carl Hall, in his second game back after missing seven with a broken right thumb, scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, six offensive. Guard Tekele Cotton had a career-high eight rebounds. Guard Malcolm Armstead grabbed six.
“They have trouble . . . rebounding, and we try to take advantage of that with our size,” Hall said.
Doug McDermott led Creighton with 25 points, his high in five meetings with WSU. He made 10 of 19 shots. The Shockers kept him off the line — 1 of 2 — and made him work for his shots. Cotton, Hall and Cleanthony Early took turns guarding him.
“They’re great offensively,” Cotton said. “I just tried to do my part and limit his easy touches and good looks at the goal.”
WSU’s poor shooting almost cost it the game. The Shockers couldn’t build on their lead because of offensive droughts. Hall missed 5 of 6 free throws in the final two minutes.
They rarely turned the ball over — seven times, three in the second half — and they turned all those possessions into 71 shots, 16 more than Creighton.
Armstead came up with two of the game’s biggest sequences in the final minutes. With WSU up 64-63, he stole the ball from Doug McDermott. The teams traded a free throw each, then Armstead made two foul shots with 15.2 seconds to play for the final margin.
Creighton’s Ethan Wragge missed a three from the corner — on an inbound play — with eight seconds remaining. After two misses by Hall, Wragge missed again from around 24 feet at the top of the key before the buzzer.
“We got we wanted,” Greg McDermott said. “We got him two good looks in the last few seconds to tie it. The game was decided long before those shots. You can’t turn it over twice as many times as they do and give them that many second opportunities on the backboards and expect to be in the game. And yet, we still had a chance to tie it.”
Marshall wanted to foul on Creighton’s final possession, which started with 7.1 seconds to play. He saw no sense in giving the nation’s top three-point shooting team (45.4 percent) a chance to tie.
“We tried to do it,” Marshall said. “There’s a fine line between fouling and trying to foul too hard. Malcolm was the guy that tried to foul, and they didn’t call it.”
The win puts WSU in position to finish the first half of MVC play in great position. The Shockers survived injuries. They bounced back from a loss at Evansville. They beat the preseason favorite to hold serve at home. They play two of their next three at Koch Arena.
“We didn’t allow them to separate,” Marshall said. “They’re a very good team and they’ve got a great chance to be right there at the end. Hopefully, we can be right there with them.”