Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson will always stick up for the Missouri Valley Conference, even in the aftermath of a 19-point loss on his home court.
He sees that as his job as a 14-year veteran of the conference. After watching Wichita State play for 40 minutes, he proclaimed the Shockers an NCAA Tournament team and a Sweet 16 possibility.
Hinson isn’t interested in the bubble talk that ramps up in February. His bracket features two names written in ink.
“I’m fighting for our league,” he said. “I see so many things talked about right now about how mid-majors aren’t going to get an at-large bid. It makes me sick to my stomach. I think Illinois State and Wichita State deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament.”
Wichita State continued to look the part with an 87-68 win over SIU on Wednesday at SIU Arena. The Shockers won their ninth straight game, eight by 15 or more points, with their familiar blend of three-point shooting and defense.
WSU (24-4, 14-1 MVC) defeated SIU for the ninth straight time, matching its longest streak in the series.
Conner Frankamp led WSU with 14 points, all in the second half and nine in a game-turning burst.
Markis McDuffie added 13 points and nine rebounds. Rauno Nurger led WSU’s 32-point bench scoring with 12 points. Landry Shamet scored 13 points and handed out six assists.
WSU made 10 of 16 three-pointers and out-rebounded SIU 44-27. After committing eight first-half turnovers, WSU finished with 14.
SIU (14-14, 7-8) lost its third straight game.
Sean O’Brien led SIU with 14 points and eight rebounds. Mike Rodriguez added 13.
The Salukis missed 12 of 13 three-pointers and shot 37.1 percent from the field. It was the eighth consecutive game for WSU to hold its opponent under 40 percent. Don’t expect Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall to act too satisfied with his team’s defense.
The Shockers are good, sometimes great, stoppers and they showed it again. Marshall saw breakdowns in the ball-screen defense, largely in the first half, and too many second-chance points.
“I don’t know how good our defense was,” Marshall said. “I thought we fouled way too much. They lived in the paint, that’s why they shot 24 free throws.”
The Salukis didn’t get much else, especially after WSU limited their offensive rebounds in the second half. SIU made 12 of 29 shots in the second half and missed all six of their threes.
“We definitely are at our best peak of being consistently defensively,” WSU center Shaq Morris. “We all bought in to defense as our pride, instead of scoring.”
Defense turned the game early in the second half.
WSU’s Rashard Kelly started an 18-4 by taking a charge. He tipped in a missed shot for a 39-33 lead. Kelly blocked a shot by O’ Brien, leading to Frankamp’s first three-pointer. Frankamp made another on a break after an SIU miss.
After another SIU miss, the Salukis lost Frankamp and he made a wide-open three for a 53-37 lead.
“We played hard, but we didn’t play smart,” Hinson said. “The shock and awe of that really bothered us. We made mistakes and they took real big advantage.”
Hinson said he told his team that Frankamp was WSU’s hottest shooter. SIU couldn’t afford to leave him open and it did. The Shockers found him.
“They’re really good at getting the ball out quick,” O’Brien said. “Where we get messed up is we’re just worried about our own guy. If someone’s back, you’ve got to pick up their guy. We let Frankamp get three open ones, back to back to back.”
SIU’s free throws and occasional drives to the basket couldn’t keep up with WSU’s offense. The Shockers made 19 of 33 shots (57.6 percent) in the second half.
“If we didn’t turn it over, we got a great look,” Marshall said.
SIU kept it close in the first half with a nine-point edge at the line and eight offensive rebounds that created six second-chance points.
The Shockers committed eight turnovers. When they kept control of the ball, their offense worked well and they made 16 of 30 shots, 4 of 6 from three-point range.
WSU led 21-11 when the Salukis switched to a zone defense with Shamet and Frankamp on the bench for WSU. SIU followed with a 9-2 run. The Shockers pushed the lead to 31-22 on a three by Zach Brown.
SIU finished the half on an 11-6 run to trail 37-33.
McDuffie scored 11 first-half points for WSU, making 5 of 6 shots. Morris added eight, including a rolling one-handed dunk late in the half.