Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall loves the Boston Red Sox, so it’s understandable he had pitcher Chris Sale on his mind and that naturally led to thinking about shutouts.
“It looked like that for awhile,” Marshall said. “By the way, the Red Sox picked up Chris Sale. That was pretty good. Speaking of keeping a team from scoring …”
The Shockers didn’t need a blockbuster trade to make Tuesday a success. They routed Saint Louis 75-45 at Koch Arena with another superb defensive effort, one that kept fans on their feet clapping for defense for the first 9 minutes, 14 seconds of the first half.
WSU held the Billikens to nine first-half points, a record low for an opponent, and a season-low (for both teams) 25.9-percent shooting.
“It’s tough to compete when you can’t make a basket,” Saint Louis coach Travis Ford said. “You can’t come in here and start the way we started.”
Tuesday’s game ended a four-season contract between Wichita State (8-2) and Saint Louis (2-6). It started with great promise, a 70-65 win Shockers win in 2013 and both teams won conference titles and played in the NCAA Tournament.
WSU won the next three games by 29, 15 and 30 points and the hoped-for strength of schedule benefits disappeared.
Marshall wants to keep playing the Billikens and both sides confirm discussions toward that end. The geography works and there’s hope that Ford, in his first season after eight at Oklahoma State, will recruit the Billikens back to prominence.
He’s got a lot of work to do, as the first half showed.
“That’s kind of where we’re at right now,” he said. “I thought we did some good things, but we just didn’t make shots.”
WSU set a shot clock-era record (since 1985) for fewest points allowed in a half by building a 35-9 halftime lead. In 2000, the Shockers held Centenary to 12 second-half points.
“Holding a team to nine points is hard to do; I don’t care who you’re playing,” Marshall said.
Rashard Kelly led the Shockers with a career-high 15 points. His eight rebounds are one short of a career high. Darral Willis added 12.
The Shockers made 45 percent of their shots, 8 of 20 from three-point range. They out-rebounded the Billikens 52-29.
Jermaine Bishop led the Billikens with 10 points.
Saint Louis shot 25.9 percent (15 of 58) from the field, 8 of 28 from three-point range.
The Shockers had every reason to let up a bit after playing so well at Colorado State on Saturday in an 82-67 win. Instead, they choked the hope out of the Billikens from the tip, helped by a team lacking confidence in its shooting strokes.
“That’s what we can be,” WSU freshman Landry Shamet said. “Coach (Marshall) talked about how we need to do that all the time. That was our mindset and we were all on the same page.”
The Billikens missed all manner of shots in all ways – airballs, hard off the backboard, hard off the rim. One wedged between the rim and backboard. Even when open, Saint Louis shooters didn’t look like they believed the ball could fit inside the rim, until the second half.
After the second media timeout, Marshall tried to fire up the crowd, waving his arms and exhorting fans to make noise for his team’s defensive effort. The Billikens missed their first 12 shots and didn’t score until Jalen Johnson made a three-pointer with 10:46 remaining in the half.
“We had pitched a shutout for eight minutes and I thought the guys deserved a bigger hand than they were getting,” Marshall said. “I tried to juice up the crowd a little bit, to no avail. I didn’t get that done.”
WSU’s defense took all the energy out of the Billikens and the crowd.
Saint Louis’ lone competitive sequence of the half went like this: dunk by Elliott Welmer, airball by Zeke Moore, three by Welmer and free throw by Welmer.
That cut WSU’s lead to 21-9 with 5:18 to play. Saint Louis missed its final seven shots of the half and WSU finished the half on a 15-0 run to lead 36-9.