Late in the first half, ESPN’s cameras lingered on Fred VanVleet and Conner Frankamp on the Wichita State bench.
The shot seemed equally cruel and uplifting. There they are. So close.
For 30 or so minutes on Sunday, the 20th-ranked Shockers stumbled through another nightmare that highlighted their lack of scoring, passing and dribbling. Iowa routed WSU 84-61 in the seventh-place game of the AdvoCare Invitational at HP Field House.
Soon, however, VanVleet and Frankamp should join the lineup and the Shockers (2-4) can’t wait for an infusion of talent and experience.
“It’s a long season,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “The cavalry will be here ultimately, but I don’t know how quickly.”
It’s already been a long season, with five months worth of injury and upheaval packed into two weeks.
It is still a long season, which means the Shockers own time to recover, although their margin of error diminishes with each defeat. WSU owns its first three-game losing streak since 2013 and is two games under-.500 for the first time since 2008-09.
To recap, WSU is also without senior center Anton Grady, who suffered a spinal concussion on Friday. He will fly back to Wichita with the team on Sunday night. What’s next is uncertain for him. Freshman guard Landry Shamet is out around two months with a stress fracture.
VanVleet is expected to play Saturday at Saint Louis, although Marshall wouldn’t commit to that and expressed more desire to treat the strained left hamstring with caution. Frankamp is on track to play Dec. 12 against Utah, with Dec. 9 against UNLV a slight possibility, as he completes his redshirt requirements after transferring from Kansas.
That’s a load of talent out of uniform and the remaining Shockers aren’t prepared to play the competition encountered in Orlando.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Marshall said. “I knew coming in we were going to have the shortest sword, and it turned out to be a pocket knife.”
Iowa turned out to be a brutal losers bracket opponent. The Hawkeyes start four seniors, score with grace and efficiency and don’t turn the ball over. They made 28 of 52 shots and 8 of 18 three-pointers, rocking WSU with a 10-3 run to start the game, a 15-2 run later in the half and an 11-0 run to start the second half.
Senior forward Jarrod Uthoff led Iowa with 22 points. Senior center Adam Woodbury added 15. Iowa shot 53.8 percent from the field and held the Shockers to 35.6-percent shooting.
“We put two pretty good halves together defensively,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “I thought we moved the ball and we took care of the ball.”
Freshman forward Eric Hamilton led the Shockers with 14 points, a season high. Sophomore center Shaq Morris added 11. Ron Baker, hounded and battered again while trying to dribble or move without the ball, scored seven points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Things went bad from the start for WSU — a missed three and a turnover helped Iowa go up 5-3. The Hawkeyes, running their offense smoothly, built that lead to 10-3 and 14-7. A dunk by Morris cut the lead to 14-9. Instead of signaling a rally, it signaled the end.
Iowa responded with a 15-2 run that ended all Wichita State hopes. WSU guard Ty Taylor’s half-court shot at the buzzer provided the half’s remaining highlight and cut the lead to 40-21.
The Hawkeyes opened the second half with an 11-0 run, holding WSU without a basket until Bush Wamukota scored with 16:21 remaining. The Shockers changed the tempo of the gloomy game with a press and zone defense. Getting stops created easy baskets and WSU perked up with an 18-2 run, cutting Iowa’s lead to 66-51 on three-pointers by Hamilton and Zach Brown.
Iowa quickly pushed the lead back to 21 points.
The Shockers leave Florida 0-3 and own one victory this season over an NCAA Division I opponent. It is indeed a long season and WSU will need every day of it to get back on track.