Key statistics: The Aces made 1 of 12 three-pointers and committed 13 turnovers while making 15 baskets. Evansville’s two worst shooting games of the season (30 and 31 percent) are against WSU.
Records: UE 19-9, 9-7 MVC; WSU 25-3, 15-1
How the game turned: WSU led by 18-11 when guard Fred VanVleet put on a show with eight of WSU’s next 12 points to build a 30-15 halftime lead.
Stat that might surprise you: WSU guards Ron Baker (15) and VanVleet (8) combined for 23 rebounds, same as UE’s starting lineup.
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Stat that shouldn’t surprise you: Aces guard D.J. Balentine went 2 for 10 from the field and is 8 for 27 in two games against WSU. Balentine must face WSU’s Tekele Cotton, which is tough enough. He is surrounded by average to below-average shooters, which makes his job harder. In MVC play, the other Aces are 29 of 96 (30.2) percent from three-point and Taylor Stafford (7 of 18) rarely plays. Balentine faces three or four defenders ready to obstruct him and feeling little pressure to stick with their man.
Next up: at Indiana State (14-14, 10-6), 6 p.m., Wednesday (Cox 22)
▪ Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet answered his final question during the news conference and while he spoke to the media, he might as well have been speaking directly to freshman Rashard Kelly, standing in the back of the Koch Arena interview room for his turn, or several of the other reserves.
VanVleet spoke of this team’s ceiling for improvement, which rests almost solely with one or two of the newcomers (and that we’re still calling them newcomers in late February is telling) producing 10-15 solid minutes consistently.
“We talk about our bench improvement, we talk about some guys on our team not shooting the ball particularly well,” he said. “There’s so many things we can do better. We’re playing pretty well, but still knowing we can get a lot better.”
Shaq Morris has done enough to be considered WSU’s most consistent reserve. Beyond him, it’s been a guessing game since MVC play started on Dec. 31.
The good news is Rashard Kelly played well on Sunday with six points and five rebounds and Zach Brown returned after missing four games with a concussion. Kelly performed as WSU’s top reserve in most of the non-conference games. Brown put together an intriguing stretch of games in Hawaii where he made 7 of 11 shots and played good defense. Both slipped in MVC play.
“I put too much pressure on myself,” Kelly said, referring to the start of MVC games. “As a freshman, you want to affect the game positively. Now I got back to what I was doing, just playing basketball.”
We know Kelly can rebound aggressively. Brown’s contribution can come on defense. He is capable of guarding several positions and has shown good ability and desire to do so. He is 8 of 16 from three-point range, although 1 for 6 in MVC games. Brown, coach Gregg Marshall said, gave up a layup on a play the team discussed several times in Sunday’s shootaround. Those lapses must be avoided.
“He’s still not quite as mature as these other guys, mentally, out there,” Marshall said. “But he’s quite a specimen. He can guard and he can knock down the open shot.”
▪ Marshall liked WSU’s pressure on the passer. Evansville assists on most of its baskets, which means disrupting those passes is critical.
“When you’re playing a team like that, your first line of defense has to be the guy guarding the ball,” Marshall said. “He’s got to be active hands and he’s got to be looking to get deflections.”
▪ Baker’s 15 rebounds are the most since Garrett Stutz grabbed 15 against Indiana State in 2012.
▪ WSU committed eight turnovers, the 11th time in 16 MVC games it committed nine or fewer.