Everything that Wichita State accomplishes on the basketball court is targeted at two goals — beating Illinois State on Feb. 4 and making the NCAA Tournament, which may require winning three games in March in St. Louis.
Until then, the Shockers are preparing as best they can, by making a deep team deeper and by extending their periods of focused, confident play. On Tuesday, the Shockers took great advantage of another 40-minute session to rout Southern Illinois 87-45 at Koch Arena.
No second-half letdown, even after building a 17-point lead. A dominant defensive performance, even against a short-handed team. A dominant rebounding performance against a team that’s battled WSU better than most on the backboards in recent seasons.
“We’re trying to be a 40-minutes basketball team,” WSU forward Markis McDuffie said. “Trying to play as hard as we can. Coach (Gregg Marshall) is challenging us in the second half. We’re taking on the challenge.”
Wichita State ended its first half of the MVC schedule in second place, which is not where it’s accustomed to landing. It is, however, a dominant second place with room for growth.
“We’ve kind of struggled coming out in the second half, if we have a big lead, on staying focused,” WSU guard Conner Frankamp said. “Doing the little things, rebounding, not turning the ball over. Coach has really challenged us.”
WSU (18-4, 8-1 MVC) defeated the Salukis for the eighth straight time and the sixth at Koch Arena. The 42-point margin of victory is WSU’s second-largest in the series and tied for the third-most in an MVC game.
They reached the halfway point of the 18-game MVC schedule behind Illinois State (8-0), which plays Indiana State on Wednesday.
SIU (11-11, 4-5) lost by the third-largest margin in program history. The Salukis played without guards Sean Lloyd, a starter the past seven games, and top reserve Leo Vincent. Both are out for academic reasons.
“We could have had Jesus on our squad tonight and I don’t know if it would have mattered,” SIU coach Barry HInson said. “I know the Lord works miracles, but, man, we would have needed a really big one.”
McDuffie led the Shockers with 20 points and nine rebounds. Darral Willis added 15 points and Shaq Morris 10.
WSU, out-rebounded by SIU in four of the past five meetings, won that statistical category 47-27. The Shockers made 56 percent of their shots and 9 of 19 from behind the arc.
Sean O’Brien led SIU with 12 points. Armon Fletcher added 10. The Salukis shot 28 percent from the field to finish with 15 baskets and 12 turnovers. They missed 11 of 12 three-pointers.
The Shockers, who lost to Illinois State 76-62, cruised past seven other MVC opponents (Indiana State twice) with an average margin of 22.2 points. If Tuesday is an indication, they are getting better.
In the past three games, WSU is outscoring its opponents 147-91 in the second half.
“We’ve had sizable leads several times after the first half and we haven’t played well in the second half,” Marshall said. “You have to go and try to play as well or better than you did in the first half. We did that. We weren’t equal, we were better.”
WSU handled SIU, like it handled most others, because it’s bigger, faster, deeper and more talented. Marshall isn’t done building depth — freshman guard C.J. Keyser played his most significant first-half minutes of the season and performed well.
The combination of its defense and SIU’s poor shooting removed any sense of suspense. The Salukis missed 12 of their first 17 shots and showed little energy from that point. WSU beat the Salukis downcourt for open shots several times, simply out-hustling them after made and missed baskets.
The Shockers led 39-22 at halftime and didn’t let up in the second half. They started with an 11-4 run and SIU continued to fade.
McDuffie scored WSU’s first six points of the game and nine of its first 15. Willis, out of the lineup after 13 straight starts, scored the other six. His spin and dunk started an 12-3 run that Frankamp ended with a long three-pointer.
SIU called timeout. The meeting did not fix the Saluki shooting problems. They tried different defenses, zoning and pressing the Shockers. They crashed after offensive rebounds and grabbed a few. The Salukis could not make shots and the Shockers could.
McDuffie scored 14 points in the first half and the Shockers made 14 of 26 shots. Late in the half, they extended the lead by beating defenders for fast-break points, punishing SIU for sending three or four players in search of offensive rebounds. McDuffie snuck in for a layup after a an SIU basket. Morris grabbed a rebound and his outlet pass to Zach Brown led to another McDuffie layup.
WSU made 14 of 26 shots in the first half. SIU made 9 of 29 and committed six turnovers.