No. 11 Wichita State treated New Mexico State much like it did lesser-name schools paid to open the season and provide a tuneup for tougher opponents.
The Shockers smothered the Aggies and turned bad passes and careless dribbling into layups and dunks. They paid New Mexico State $75,000 on the promise that a team with three straight NCAA Tournament appearances will win 20 games and help WSU’s strength of schedule.
Maybe so. The Aggies will need to play a lot better than they did Friday at Koch Arena in a 71-54 loss to the Shockers. Tekele Cotton scored 17 points to lead the Shockers, who scored 50 points in the paint and 26 off 20 Aggies turnovers.
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“I don’t think they have a true point guard, but they have some guys that can really make plays off the bounce,” WSU guard Fred VanVleet said. “If we sat back and let them throw it in the post we probably would lose that battle 10 times out of 10 with the size. We didn’t want to just let them bang it in and bang it in all night.”
Ron Baker added 16 points and VanVleet tied the school record with seven steals. Daniel Mullings, the Western Athletic Conference preseason player of the year, scored 14. WSU went 0 for 11 from three-point range and still shot 49.2 percent from the field. The Aggies made a mere 16 baskets and missed 13 of their 17 three-pointers.
“We just tried to get out and pressure,” Cotton said. “That’s who we are as a team.”
WSU’s defense frazzled a turnover-prone team from the start. The Shockers didn’t make many shots outside the lane. That wasn’t a problem, because the Aggies surrendered layups and dunks. WSU’s guards disrupted New Mexico State’s offense and didn’t allow them to pass the ball into its post players, many of whom enjoyed a size advantage. When the bigs did get the ball, WSU’s guards attacked to make it hard to move. Aggies center Tshilidzi Nephawe, 6-foot-10, 265 pounds, scored five points.
“Our bigs did a pretty good job against a huge human being,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “They’re every bit as big or bigger than us.”
Not faster. Not more aggressive on defense. That showed from the beginning when the Shockers played full-speed. After one steal, several Aggies watched the Shockers steam down court. That doesn’t happen with WSU.
Cotton opened the scoring with a dunk after stealing a pass. Darius Carter hustled his way into position near the basket and made a short hook. Baker dunked after stealing another pass. VanVleet scored after another turnover for a 10-4 lead.
Even the freshmen took advantage of New Mexico State. After a miss, guard Ria’n Holland hit center Rauno Nurger, running hard to beat defenders down the floor, for a two-handed dunk.
Cotton scored six straight points to give WSU a 20-9 lead. After Baker scored on a backdoor pass from Rashard Kelly, Cotton grabbed a loose ball near half court and drove for a dunk and a 24-12 lead.
That was the story. The Aggies couldn’t run an offense, couldn’t get off a good shot and couldn’t take advantage of a height advantage. They took only 17 shots and missed 10 in the first half. They turned the ball over 12 times, leading to 15 points for the Shockers.
WSU missed all six of its three-pointers and still made 17 of 30 shots (56.7 percent) to build a 38-21 halftime lead. Baker and Cotton both scored 10. Freshman Shaq Morris added five points off the bench.
The Shockers pushed their lead to 24 points, 53-29, with 13:17 to play before the Aggies climbed back a bit. They cut the margin to 16 points with 3:09 to play.
That was plenty of cushion for the Shockers, who wanted this tuneup before traveling to South Dakota to play Memphis on Tuesday.