It wasn’t just that Wichita State beat Creighton 65-56 in Saturday afternoon’s regular-season opener at Koch Arena. It was how the Shockers did it.
With Alex Harden scoring 28 points while going toe-to-toe against reigning Big East Player of the Year Marissa Janning.
With suffocating defense that seemed to never let the Bluejays breathe, much less get second-chance or fast-break points.
With a back-and-forth second half that saw the Shockers cough up the lead early and dismantle former Missouri Valley Conference foe Creighton late.
And without All-MVC guard Jamillah Bonner, who was out with an injury, according to WSU coach Jody Adams.
"We knew today was going to be a battle," Adams said. "What we talked a lot about this week was team toughness, about how that would be needed for 40 minutes.
"You saw a team play together out there. You saw a team play with toughness out there and without one of our seniors in Jamillah Bonner. I couldn’t be more proud of this team and how they played for each other and the toughness that they displayed.”
Bonner wasn’t at Saturday’s game or with the Shockers on Friday night when they were recognized for last year’s MVC regular-season and tournament titles at the WSU men’s game against New Mexico State.
“We know what we had to do against (Janning), because we scout everybody the same,” Harden said. “It’s about accountability, about us playing defense first and the offense comes from that. We want to go out and play the same every time.”
The Shockers kept Creighton at arm’s length for most of the first half behind a big start by Michaela Dapprich and holding Janning in check — a job that mostly fell in Harden’s lap.
Dapprich scored eight of her 15 points in the first 10 minutes, and after Creighton cut WSU’s lead to 26-25 with 43.2 seconds left in the first half, back-to-back buckets by Kelsey Jacobs and Harden in the last 10 seconds gave WSU a 30-25 lead at halftime.
“We probably did take them by surprise,” Dapprich said. “But that’s what we’ll do every time, that’s how we’ll play every team.”
Creighton took a 42-40 lead with 11:11 left in the game on a layup by Brianna Rollerson, but the Shockers locked down on defense and outscored the Bluejays 19-3 over the next nine minutes, taking a 59-45 lead on a jumper by Harden with 2:53 remaining.
"What I’ve asked this team to do now, in November, is be where they would be at mentally in February or March," Adams said. "We’ve never been on this stage, where we opened up against another NCAA (Tournament) team. We’ve never opened up against another player of the year."
Harden, a two-time All-MVC pick, two-time MVC Tournament MVP and two-time MVC Defensive Player of the Year, had six rebounds and five steals. Jacobs finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Janning scored 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting, including four three-pointers and four turnovers. WSU forced 17 Creighton turnovers.
“Harden did a really good job of denying me that intitial pass,” Janning said. “We weren’t able to start the offense with the ball in my hand almost every time down the floor. We scouted to take away a lot of what Dapprich and Harden do, and it was Dapprich killing us in the first half and Harden killing us in the second half.
“Give them credit, they played great.”
Shockers sign three — Forwards Jyar Francis, Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage and Ellie Lehne signed letters of intent.
Francis (6-foot) averaged 20.9 points and 12 rebounds as a junior at Ponchatoula (La.) High and earned second-team All-Class 5A honors.
Lozada-Cabbage (6-2), from Santa Fe (N.M.) High, averaged 13.4 points and 6.5 rebounds as a junior. She tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in July and will not play this season, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican. She committed to WSU before the injury and the school honored the scholarship.
“She could actually play, but I still think we’ll have a good team without her, and I would hate for her to get hurt here and not go to college and play,” coach Elmer Chavez told the New Mexican.
Lehne (6-2) was named second-team All-Class 2A for Byron (Ill.) High. She averaged around 17 points and six rebounds.
CREIGHTON (0-1): McGrory 3-7 4-4 10, Jensen 1-3 0-0 3, Janning 6-13 2-3 18, Akin-Otiko 3-7 0-0 6, Rollerson 4-9 3-4 11, Owens 0-3 0-0 0, Works 0-0 0-0 0, Lamberty 1-2 0-1 2, Leytem 0-3 0-0 0, Johnson 2-4 1-2 6, Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-51 10-14 56.
WICHITA STATE (1-0): Stovall 0-1 2-2 2, Jacobs 5-12 0-0 10, Decker 0-0 0-0 0, Harden 9-18 9-10 28, Mi. Dapprich 6-13 3-5 15, White 2-6 0-0 4, Martin 3-5 0-0 6, Chapel 0-0 0-0 0, Mo. Dapprich 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-55 14-17 65.
Halftime—Wichita State 30, Creighton 25. Rebounds—Creighton 33 (Janning 7, Akin-Otiko 7); Wichita State 33 (Jacobs 8). Assists—Creighton 11 (McGrory 4); Wichita State 10 (Jacobs 4). Three-point shooting—Creighton 6-18 (Janning 4-6, Johnson 1-3, Jensen 1-2, McGrory 0-2, Akin-Otiko 0-2, Leytem 0-3); Wichita State 1-8 (Harden 1-2, Dapprich 0-3, Jacobs 0-2, Stovall 0-1). Technicals—None. Attendance—2,156.