Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet did the post-game interview with ESPNU’s Mark Adams. Fans cheered. VanVleet walked toward the locker room. A TV crew from his hometown followed with cameras held high to document the moment in Gentile Arena’s crowded concourse. On the way, he hugged friends and family and high-fived fans.
VanVleet is kind of a big deal, and with good reason on Sunday. He scored 14 points in No. 15 WSU’s 67-53 win over Loyola, again shooting perfectly in Gentile Arena. He handed out 10 assists to tie his career best, grabbed six rebounds and made three steals. Many Shockers played well in the second half, but only one brought a cheering section from 80 miles away in Rockford, Ill.
“It’s great to play in front of family,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “He’s got his sister. Brothers. Mom and dad. Cousins. Aunts. Uncles. Everybody is here to see him.”
VanVleet played his second game at Loyola and his statistics show a fondness for playing close to home. He scored 22 points last season, with eight rebounds and six assists, and made all six of his shots and all 10 free throws. On Sunday, he went 5 for 5 from the field and 3 for 4 from the line.
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He is not sure why he can’t miss in Chicago, only that he enjoys it.
“I don’t think about it much at all until after the game,” he said. “Obviously, I like seeing my family and friends, but at the same time you’re trying to get the job done and get a win.”
VanVleet, with plenty of help, secured the victory with an efficient and powerful second half. VanVleet opened the defense with drives to the basket. Tekele Cotton made four three-pointers. Big men Darius Carter and Shaq Morris played together and their shot-blocking and size keyed a strong defense.
“They absolutely took it to another level in the second half,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “VanVleet, he should name this arena after himself.”
The Shockers (14-2, 4-0 Missouri Valley Conference) kept pace with Indiana State atop the MVC standings. Loyola (12-4, 2-2) lost to a ranked team for the third time this season.
Cotton led WSU with 16 points, 14 in the second half, and he made 4 of 6 three-pointers to punish Loyola’s sagging defense. The Ramblers gave him space to shoot in the first half, preferring to clog the lane and defend Carter and Morris. Cotton missed both his threes, one badly. In the second half, he barely touched the rim with his threes. His back-to-back threes gave WSU a 33-28 lead. He made them back-to-back again to push WSU’s lead to 59-45 and end a mild rally by the Ramblers.
“My coaches and teammates, Fred, … they were saying ‘shoot the ball,’” Cotton said. “I put up reps every day. I see the ball go through the net, so I just had to come in in the second half and make them.”
WSU, 1 of 9 from three in the first half, made 6 of 10 in the second half.
“The big key was Fred was able to get to the rim a couple times and make some easy ones,” Marshall said. “It started with Fred’s penetration and his ability to find people.”
Devon Turk led the Ramblers with 11 points. Loyola made 10 of 18 threes and seven baskets inside the arc.
WSU started the second half on a 12-2 run with Cotton making two threes. Carter scored in the lane, blocked a shot and found Cotton open, through a double-team, for one of his threes. A layup by Baker gave the Shockers a 35-30 lead.
WSU’s defense dominated the early stages of the second half with Carter and Morris swatting away shots. WSU’s second-half run expanded to 13-3 on a layup by VanVleet for a 41-31 edge. The Shockers pushed that lead to 53-42 on a three by VanVleet, with four seconds on the shot clock. Loyola’s Earl Peterson, a Coffeyville Community College product, banked in a shot from half-court, at the shot-block buzzer, to cut the lead to 53-45 and bring the crowd back to life.
Cotton calmly responded with a three from the wing for a 56-45 lead with 3:36 remaining. Then he made another, top of the key, for a 59-45 lead with 2:55 to play. After the Ramblers scored, Evan Wessel‘s three removed all doubt and the Shockers led 62-47 with 1:47 to play.
“We didn’t match that level,” Moser said. “They do it all the time. Even when we hit that bank shot at half court, and the crowd tried to get in it … they answer all the time.”
MVC opponents are used to WSU’s answers. The Shockers won their 22nd straight conference regular-season game and their 25th straight counting post-season tournament wins.