The Missouri Valley Conference standings look familiar. Wichita State is back on top, tied with Illinois State, after a three-week stay in second place.
There is no indication the Shockers will see second again this season. They won the closest thing to a must-win game they will play this month in impressive fashion, routing Illinois State 86-45 on Saturday night at Koch Arena.
WSU reversed every ugly factor from last month’s 14-point loss at Redbird Arena. The plan started with 6-foot-6 forward Zach Brown defending Redbirds guard Paris Lee and removing his influence from the game. With Lee blanketed, the Redbirds had no chance to keep up.
The Shockers grabbed the role of aggressor, won the scrums for loose balls and defended the Redbirds into submission early in the second half. What was billed as relief from mundane MVC blowouts turned into another one. The margin is WSU’s biggest against Illinois State and tied for the fifth-largest against an MVC opponent.
“We were in our own zone and we were able to attack and do everything we wanted to do,” WSU forward Zach Brown said. “Our intensity, our focus was there.”
The completeness of the victory began to show midway through the second half. Illinios State coach Dan Muller, after watching his MVC-leading defense give up dunks and open three-pointers, pulled most of his starters.
“I could see in their faces not much was going to change,” Muller said. “I wanted them to have the feeling of what it felt like to continue to get dominated.”
The Shockers gleefully did just that, exacting revenge for the Jan. 14 loss that knocked them out of first place for the first time since 2013. WSU coach Gregg Marshall called a full timeout in the final minute — payback for one called in Redbird Arena —to give Illinois State time to marinate in the defeat.
“We played close to 40 minutes of quality basketball,” Marshall said. “(The players) don’t like losing. They like to be in first place. That was taken away from us three weeks ago. We definitely returned the favor, and then some.”
WSU (21-4, 11-1 MVC) earned its first win over a team ranked in the top 50 of the RPI, likely a necessity if they need an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament. Of more immediate importance, the path to a fourth consecutive MVC title is now clear. Win the remaining six games and the Shockers can do no worse than a tie.
“Everybody knew what was at stake,” WSU forward Markis McDuffie said. “Everybody was pumped up for this game.”
WSU’s Conner Frankamp scored a career-high 18 points, 13 in the first half. He made 4 of 6 three-pointers and is 11 of 20 in his past three games. The Frankamp who seemed hesitant at times, the one from whom coach Marshall demanded more and more from, is replaced by an assertive scorer who knows how and when to get his shots.
“The way he can shoot it off the dribble is unique, with his range,” Muller said. “Every time I wanted to get something going, he would make a shot.”
McDuffie added 16 points. Shaq Morris contributed 11 points and 11 rebounds, his second straight game with double figures in points and rebounds.
WSU shot 57 percent for the game, 73.1 in the second half (19 of 26). It outscored Illinois State 18-5 at the foul line.
Illinois State (19-5, 11-1) lost for the ninth straight time in Koch Arena. The Redbirds played without starting forward MiKyle McIntosh, out with a knee injury for three weeks. His absence hurt, but didn’t explain the collapse in the second half. Starters Paris Lee, Deontae Hawkins and Tony Wills joined McIntosh on the bench midway through the second half, their time done and no point to a return.
Phil Fayne led the Redbirds with nine points. Illinois State missed 18 of its 22 three-pointers and committed 19 turnovers.
Lee, perhaps the leader for MVC Player of the Year, scored a season-low four points on 2-of-11 shooting.
“Zach Brown was incredible with his defense,” Marshall said. “I think the length bothered him. When he came out, we put more length on him with Markis McDuffie.”
The Shockers worked their way through a tough first half and started to tear down the Illinois State defense in the final five minutes. In the second half, they broke it down completely, making 13 of their first 16 shots. The Redbirds defense that dictated terms in the first meeting disappeared. The Shockers found openings for dunks, layups and threes to slice up the Valley’s best defense.
The zone defense that frustrated the Shockers in Redbird Arena provided little resistance in Koch Arena.
“We got the ball inside, played inside-out,” Morris said. “We got Conner Frankamp playing aggressive. And it all fed off our defense.”
The Shockers opened the second half on a 14-2 run, making 6 of 7 shots, to force the Redbirds to call timeout.
Illinois State started the half with a turnover, reflecting the coming trouble.
Darral Willis made a jumper and Brown drove through a crowd of defenders for a layup. Illinois State’s Deontae Hawkins turned the ball over and bricked a three.
The Shockers scored on their next four trips, two baskets by Morris and threes by Brown and Shamet, to go up 49-24.
WSU closed the first half on a 17-4 run to go up 35-22. Illinois State missed 10 of its final 11 shots.
Frankamp’s three got the burst rolling. Morris stole a pass and missed a layup, with McDuffie hustling in for the follow for a 27-20 lead.
Frankamp’s next three made it 30-20. Illinois State coach Dan Muller protested a traveling no-call when McDuffie landed before passing to Frankamp and earned a technical foul. Frankamp made two foul shots. Morris finished the half with a foul shot and a turnaround in the final seconds to give the Shockers a 13-point edge.
Muller, who took off his coat late in the half, didn’t see WSU’s nine-point edge at the foul line as proper. His team missed its only free throw.
Frankamp led WSU with 13 first-half points. McDuffie added nine. Morris contributed seven points, seven rebounds and two blocks.
The Redbirds missed 13 of their 15 threes in the first half and committed nine turnovers.