Wichita State sophomore Tekele Cotton missed all 10 of his shots on Saturday. Some of them didn’t come close.
That didn’t matter much to his teammates or coach Gregg Marshall, a testament to Cotton’s other skills. Even when he isn’t scoring, he helps the Shockers in so many ways that Marshall played him 32 minutes in the win over then-No. 12 Creighton.
“His defense and tenacity and toughness are one of the reasons why we’re 17-2,” Marshall said. “A lot of guys, they’re all about their offense and if their offense is not going well, then they struggle on the defensive end. He certainly is not like that.”
Cotton gave WSU 32 minutes of excellent defense, mostly on Creighton All-American Doug McDermott, and grabbed eight rebounds and a steal in the 67-64 win. The 20th-ranked Shockers (17-2, 6-1 Missouri Valley Conference) moved into a tie for first in the Valley and into the national rankings. They will try to keep that momentum going at Missouri State (5-14, 3-4) on Wednesday.
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Cotton, a 6-foot-2 guard, had been scoring adequately in MVC play. Entering the game, he made 17 of 32 shots in six conference games. On Saturday, Creighton sagged off him and dared him to shoot.
“I’d love for him to make a few of those shots,” Marshall said. “He’s got to be able to put the ball on the floor and make a 15- or 17-foot wide-open pullup. If they come up and guard that, go around them and lay it in.”
Few of the Shockers shot well — 38 percent from the field and 4 of 23 from three-point range. Cotton and the Shockers held Creighton to a below-average shooting day (41.8 percent) and dominated the backboards.
Cotton’s efforts impressed Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated so much he named Cotton his Glue Guy of the Week in his column on SI.com.
“We put an emphasis on defense and rebounding,” Cotton said. “We put that into the game and we came out with a win.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott said his team needed to reach a higher level of toughness to win in Koch Arena. That is not good news for Missouri State, which will try to match WSU’s power and experience with a roster featuring one healthy senior.
Missouri State coach Paul Lusk is going young in his attempt salvage something this season. He started three freshmen (one a redshirt) and a sophomore in Saturday’s 69-66 loss at Bradley. The Bears lost their third straight game after starting MVC play 3-1.
“When you’re in the position that we’re in, you’re constantly searching,” Lusk said. “There was one point in that game Saturday we had five freshmen on the floor.”
Former Heights player Gavin Thurman, a freshman forward, is adjusting quickly to college. He averages 9.3 points in MVC games and scored in double figures the past three, including 18 at Indiana State. Lusk is more impressed with his six rebounds in each of the past two games.
Thurman came to MSU with scoring skills. He needed work on his defense and rebounding.
“That is a whole new side of the floor for Gavin,” Lusk said. “He is becoming a more physical player. He has to continue to get in the weight room and continue to work on his body.”