Darral Willis scored 25 points and Markis McDuffie scored a career-high 22, and the hustle plays dominated the conversation and locker-room glee.
Wichita State is used to a blowing through the Missouri Valley Conference in recent seasons with double-digit wins and relaxing finishes. The Shockers might get there again – they did win 10 non-conference games by an average of 19.2 points – when a new-look roster grows up.
For now, WSU is thrilled with a gritty, heart-pounding win such as Wednesday’s 80-72 victory over Indiana State at Hulman Center.
“There’s a lot of people that doubted us,” WSU junior Zach Brown said. “It’s challenging for us, but we’ve got to deal with adversity and get through it. This shows these guys got heart and these guys can play.”
WSU (11-3, 1-0 MVC) leaned on Willis for a season high in points and 10 rebounds, his second double-double. He made 9 of 19 shots and 7 of 9 foul shots, along with handing out three assists and blocking two shots.
“I just came in focused and ready and prepared,” he said. “I was just locked in and ready to keep getting the ball.”
With Sycamores center Brandon Murphy in foul trouble, Willis overpowered a succession of smaller big men.
“Darral Willis was incredible,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
McDuffie made 9 of 11 shots and grabbed seven rebounds. His three-pointer with 1:25 to play provided the breathing room the Shockers fought for, gained and lost all evening.
The Shockers played without junior reserve center Shaq Morris, who missed his second game with a right thigh contusion.
Guard Brenton Scott led Indiana State (6-7, 0-1) with 14 points. Brown played the lead role in hounding him into a 3-for-14 shooting night.
The Sycamores made 10 of 24 three-pointers with freshman Jordan Barnes coming off the bench to make three in the second half.
With Willis overwhelming the Sycamores with his post moves and soft jumpers, and his teammates crashing for rebounds, Morris’ absence didn’t prove fatal. WSU out-rebounded the Sycamores 47-30 and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds to convert 19 second-chance points.
“One of our plans was to try to keep them off the glass as much as possible,” Sycamores coach Greg Lansing said.
After an even first half, the Shockers dominated the hustle stats after halftime. The Sycamores played hard most of the time; the Shockers never stopped.
Marshall delighted in recounting the tide-turning effort plays that went the way of his team. Austin Reaves turned a missed three into McDuffie’s clutch shot by chasing the rebound and throwing it off Scott and out of bounds. McDuffie dunked in a follow shot. Brown grabbed four offensive rebounds. Landry Shamet blew up a dribble handoff for a steal and when he missed a layup, Daishon Smith rebounded and scored.
“Missed layup, we tip it in,” Marshall said. “Missed layup, we dunk it back. We made some winning plays, which we hadn’t been doing.”
The loss to Oklahoma State, in which the Shockers didn’t make the hustle plays, and the tough practices that followed lingered.
“If Coach is pleased, we’re all pleased,” Willis said. “And he was pleased. If he’s mad, it’s bad for all of us.”
Indiana State kept pace for much of the game without a big night from Scott, held five points under his average. He helped WSU’s defense with a reluctance to pass after driving into a thicket of defenders, especially late in the game.
“He’s got to trust his teammates, believe in his teammates and get more than one assist in a game when everybody comes to him,” Lansing said. “We had chances down the stretch and he forced the issue on some.”
WSU led by 11 in the second half and the Sycamores rallied. A 67-60 lead disappeared quickly when Barnes made a four-point play and a three.
When it had to score, the Shockers went to Willis, whose basket put them up 73-69. McDuffie’s three, after Reaves saved the possession, made it 76-69. Conner Frankamp made two foul shots and Brown two more to seal WSU’s ninth straight win over Indiana State.