There can’t be many better feelings as a shooter than when Wichita State point guard Fred VanVleet is determined to get you the ball.
Ron Baker has enjoyed that treatment many times over the past four seasons. His time with VanVleet is drawing to an end as March approaches. On Wednesday, he got hot, VanVleet got him the ball and the Shockers won, another good memory for two careers filled with them.
“Knowing that I’m hot, I know I’m going to get a good look as long as I get free or get a good screen,” Baker said. “Fred’s always there with a good pass.”
With Baker scoring 19 points, the Shockers battled past Loyola 76-54 at Gentile Arena in a foul-filled slog broken up by moments of Baker.
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“Any time he gets an early bucket, I keep looking for him,” VanVleet said. “He had it going early and I try to keep feeding him. He didn’t shoot enough, if you ask me.”
The Shockers (22-7, 15-2 MVC) improved to 6-0 vs. Loyola in its three seasons as an MVC member. The Ramblers (14-15, 7-9) have beaten every other Valley member — and Creighton — since joining in 2013. Like usual, Loyola battled and the Shockers possessed enough talent to win comfortably.
Baker made 6 of 10 shots and 3 of 5 three-pointers to record his highest points total since he had 21 at Northern Iowa on Jan. 20. Early in the game, he made a three, turned to the bench and said “Give me the ball.”
“I don’t think he hit rim his first three or four shots,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said.
WSU’s Anton Grady added 17 points, one off his season-high, by making 5 of 7 shots and all seven of his free throws.
Devon Turk, injured in the first meeting last month, led Loyola with 18 points, nine of them coming in a first-half burst.
WSU’s defense gave up few easy shots other than Turk’s roll and again cooled down an MVC opponent in its own gym. The Shockers held all nine schools under 38-percent shooting on their friendly rims and comfortable courts. WSU held Loyola to 35.3-percent shooting, 29.4 percent from three-point range.
The Ramblers, after committing four first-half turnovers, committed 10 in the second half.
“We didn’t play great, but we played well enough to beat a really good team that’s playing well,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “It wasn’t a masterpiece … but we got enough stops, held them under 40 percent.”
The Shockers continued turning around a disparity at the foul line by outscoring the Ramblers 23-13 to win that stat for the third time in four games. The teams combined for 40 fouls.
The Shockers didn’t trail for the 10th time in MVC play.
Baker scored 15 of his points in the first half.
In the second half, he provided two key sequences that pushed away the Ramblers.
He drove and scored over Doyle late in the shot clock for a 43-31 lead. Baker’s steal led to two free throws and a 45-31 lead.
Markis McDuffie rescued WSU from a slump with a baseline jumper for a 52-37 lead. After a Baker steal, Conner Frankamp’s jumper gave the Shockers a 54-37 lead.
The Shockers grabbed control of the first half with a 35-17 lead. Then Loyola’s Devon Turk made three three-pointers in the final 2:23 of the half to spark a 10-2 run that sliced WSU’s lead to 37-27.
Before Turk got loose, Baker, Grady and WSU’s defense defined the first half.
Baker scored seven of WSU’s first 10 points on his way to 15. He made 5 of 8 shots, 3 of 4 three-pointers. Grady added 10 points, making 3 of 5 shots and all four of his foul shots.
Baker made two free throws with 7:50 to play for an 18-11 lead and started an 11-4 run. His three-pointer gave the Shockers a 30-15 lead.
Loyola missed its first four shots and fell behind 8-0. The Ramblers made 11 of 30 shots in the first half, but committed only four turnovers..