Key statistics: The Shockers scored 25 points off 18 turnovers and outscored Saint Louis 7-2 on fast-break points. That helped WSU shoot a season-high 48.1 percent from the field.
How the game turned: Fred VanVleet warmed up and then he played.
Records: WSU 3-4, SLU 4-3
Stat that might surprise you: The Billikens took 12 more free throws than WSU, outscoring it 16-10 at the line.
Stat that shouldn’t surprise you: VanVleet had seven assists and one turnover.
Freshman watch: Forward Markis McDuffie moved to the head of the class with another solid performance. While he missed 4 of 5 shots, coach Gregg Marshall praised his defense. McDuffie recorded two steals and a block and seemed to work hard and stay in good position. Good defense will earn him more minutes.
“He played 17 minutes and he played really good defense,” Marshall said. “He was pushing back and keeping guys in front, using his length. Those are things he wasn’t doing in Florida.”
Why they’re All-Americans: The Shockers made 26 of 54 shots, compiled 19 assists and committed nine turnovers with VanVleet back and Ron Baker alongside. Those are the kind of numbers that WSU desires. While allowing for the fact that Saint Louis isn’t as talented as Southern California, Alabama or Iowa, Saturday’s numbers are encouraging.
VanVleet also showed his defensive worth by containing Miles Reynolds, who scored 13 points in the first half by driving past the Shockers and drawing fouls. In the second half, Reynolds scored one point because VanVleet refused to allow easy drives.
Marshall wanted to limit VanVleet to 25 minutes. First-half foul trouble made that easy and VanVleet played 18.
Rotation watch: Injuries forced WSU to use five starting lineups in seven games. This one might stick, at least until Anton Grady is back to full-speed and we see how Conner Frankamp fits.
Shaq Morris is WSU’s best choice at center and playing like it. Zach Brown scored a career-high 14 points. Rashard Kelly did not start for the first time this season. Off the bench, Rauno Nurger, McDuffie and John Robert Simon played well.
▪ Brown made 4 of 17 shots (missing all 9 threes) in his first five games and committed eight turnovers in the first five games. In the past two, he is 7 for 11 from the field, 3 of 6 from three, with three assists and two turnovers. His offensive rating (offensive efficiency) on kenpom.com rocketed from 54 vs. Alabama to 125 vs. Iowa and 149 vs. Saint Louis.
Marshall said Shockers coaches are telling Brown to think about accomplishing things in two dribbles. Any more than that is too many.
“I’ve got to become a more complete player,” Brown said. “That’s putting the ball on the floor. I used to not, ever, really, put the ball on the floor. Now I’m working on the little things, straight-line drives, keeping it simple.”
Brown is a good outside shooter. In the past two games, he’s added a few drives to the basket. He works on ball-handling regularly with assistant coach Greg Heiar and the time may be paying off.
“Don’t just pound the ball, attack, be athletic, finish,” Marshall said. “We’re trying to limit him to two dribbles. If you can’t get there in two dribbles, you’re wasting your time and ours.”
Brown will benefit from a set lineup, where he knows what is expected and can build off that. With VanVleet and Baker playing, he will get the ball in good spots and isn’t depended on to create outside his comfort zone.
“We’ve got to build that starting chemistry that him, Ron Baker and Tekele (Cotton) had,” Brown said. “It’s a great feeling knowing your point guard believes in everything you do.”
Around the MVC:
The temptation is to call it a very good Saturday for the MVC, based on Loyola’s win over Creighton and Missouri State’s win at Oklahoma State.
However, Northern Iowa lost 82-67 at Richmond and UAB defeated Illinois State 74-61 at Redbird Arena. The Redbirds are a hard team to figure, holding up well against Maryland and Kentucky but unable to carry that into losses at home to South Dakota State and UAB. The Blazers are a good team, but that’s one you would like the MVC’s preseason No. 2 to get at home.
Evansville won at Murray State and Southern Illinois improved to 8-1 with a 95-63 win at North Texas. Wow. Anthony Beane, apparently freed up by the arrival of guard Mike Rodriguez, had 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting.
Loyola’s win will get most of the attention. Call it Doug Elgin’s Final BracketBusters Revenge. The BracketBusters series ended after the 2013 season, but Creighton and Loyola put off the return game until Saturday.
Next up: vs. UNLV, 8 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN2)
The Rebels are 7-1 after an 80-69 win over No. 15 Oregon. They also own a win over Indiana.
UNLV is forcing 19.2 turnovers a game and opponents end 24 percent of their possessions with a turnover, a rate that ranks No. 13 nationally, according to kenpom.com.