ST. LOUIS – Wichita State this season ranked first in the Missouri Valley Conference in – take a deep breath – scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin, free-throw percentage, field-goal percentage defense, overall rebounding, defensive rebounding, offensive rebounding, rebounding margin, blocked shots and turnover margin.
The Shockers were second in assists-to-turnover ratio, third in field-goal percentage and assists, and fourth in steals.
Let’s put it this way: Opposing coaches doing the scouting report on Wichita State were well-advised not to check out the Shockers’ statistics.
Except for one. Three-point shooting. The Shockers ranked seventh. Loyola was better, for crying out loud.
“Aha,” the other nine teams in the Valley exclaimed. “Wichita State does have an Achilles heel.”
Yeah, about that.…
Since arriving in town for the Valley tournament, the Shockers are 19 of 41 from the three-point line in two games, including Saturday afternoon’s 67-42 semifinal blowout of Missouri State.
Wichita State blew this one open with long-range bombing, making 8 of 10 in the first half. The Shockers used a 17-0 run over just more than five minutes to turn a 13-12 lead into 30-12. And 15 of those points came on treys.
So now the Shockers are going to shoot like this? Yeah, that’s really fair.
“There are going to be games at some point where you don’t shoot it well,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “That’s where you’ve got to have your defense and rebounding in your back pocket. We always talk about it. And then when we shoot it well, we’re hard to beat.”
The Shockers are hard to beat, period. Being 33-0 now attests to that.
And now they’re in St. Louis, where they have never won the Valley tournament, and suddenly they’re becoming a bunch of Stephen Currys.
Again, not fair.
“I thought we did some really good things in the first half defensively,” Missouri State coach Paul Lusk said. “I thought we played as well as we could from a defensive standpoint. We took away the interior, but they were 8 of 10 from three. They just hit some unbelievable shots. When they’re rolling like that, they’re going to be tough to deal with.”
The Shockers’ first-half three-pointers were like machine guns. They started with a long one from Tekele Cotton, a one-time three-point liability.
Those days are gone.
“Tekele’s confidence is getting so much better,” teammate Ron Baker said. “He’s stepping into his shot now and that’s what we need from him. For him to shoot the ball like he did today makes him a big-time threat.”
Cleanthony Early made a couple of threes during the five-minute knockout run. Baker made one, too. Then Cotton struck again with 3:56 to play and a close game became a rout. Just like that.
“Like people have said, three-point shooting has been kind of an off-and-on thing for us,” Baker said. “We’ve got guys who can shoot the basketball on this team. And if we can shoot the ball like we did today and keep our defensive grind going, it’s going to be hard for teams to beat us.”
Nobody was beating this team when it was clanking a bunch of three-pointers, either. The Shockers came into the weekend ranking 194th nationally in three-point percentage (.338).
Now they can’t miss. Now they’re hitting tin cans from 100 yards.
“I think our shooting loosened up their defense a lot,” Cotton said of the Missouri State plan to clamp down inside the three-point line. “Cle had a very hot hand. I feel like everything he shoots, it’s going to go in. And you’ve got to go out there and guard that, so it loosens everything up.”
The Shockers’ Big Four of Early, Baker, Cotton and point guard Fred VanVleet have made 18 of 29 three-point attempts in two Valley tournament games. A team that does everything else so well is now winning stuffed animals shooting carnival ducks.
“If you make these three-point shots, it forces the defense out to guard you,” Early said. “Missouri State was really physical inside in this game, so our shooting gave us a little more room to work inside. So luckily we got some shots to drop.”
Just what the Shockers needed, huh? Luck.
“We told our guys, ‘You’re hanging with them, you’re hanging with them, you’re hanging with them,’ ” Lusk said. “And then, all of a sudden — it could be a two-minute stretch — and they rattle off threes like that or they pound you inside.”
The Shockers have gotten to this point with a variety of attributes. And they keep reaching into their trick bag.