Key statistics: WSU shot 21 of 61 (a season-low 34.4 percent) and made 1 of 2 free throws, both by Zach Brown. The Shockers took 61 shots and got fouled once in the act of shooting. Shocker starters combined to make 14 of 48 shots.
Records: WSU 10-2, GW 9-3
How the game turned: GW’s 1-3-1 zone threw WSU’s offense off-kilter late in the game. The Shockers scored two points in the final 6:11 after leading 52-47. In those final six minutes, WSU committed three turnovers and missed 6 of 7 shots.
Stat that shouldn’t surprise you: WSU outscored GW 12-1 on second-chance points.
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Stat that might surprise you: Ron Baker’s shooting slump continued. He made 13 of 41 shots in three games in Hawaii, 5 of 22 from three-point range. In his past five games, he is 24 of 71 (33.8 percent) from the field.
Next up: at Drake, 5 p.m., Dec. 31 (Cox 22)
The Wichita Eagle: GW coach Mike Lonergan said Hawaii helped bring the Shockers down a notch.
▪ Even after doubling their loss total from last season, the Shockers are in great shape entering MVC play. Their RPI is No. 8, their kenpom ranking is No. 13 with strong offensive efficiency and good defensive efficiency. They’ve played a strength of schedule ranked No. 37 by kenpom.com and No. 10 by warrennolan.com.
Any team, outside of Kentucky, that relies on a bench that started the season without a second of NCAA Division I experience among its scholarship players would be satisfied. We knew Cleanthony Early’s departure would change things. We knew the Shockers would miss the size and maturity of Chadrack Lufile and Kadeem Coleby. We knew it would take time for the newcomers to contribute.
With all that, WSU is 10-2 with an overtime loss at Utah and a neutral-court loss to George Washington. It may not end up with marquee victories — the jury is out on Seton Hall and Alabama — but it should have a load of solid ones. And no bad defeats, so far.
The Shockers certainly played with fire in recent games. They escaped with improbable victories against Alabama and Hawaii, largely by not making mistakes. GW played that role on Thursday.
“We’ve been playing just OK,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “We need to get back and practice. We need to get in the gym. That’s a very good team we lost to. They’re a veteran team.”
▪ Topping Marshall’s list is offense, which struggled in the final two games in Hawaii. WSU shot 39.7 percent against Hawaii and 34.4 percent against GW. Baker is WSU’s best threat, both from the outside and driving. When he is cold, the offense can stall. Fred VanVleet shot well from three (3-7) against GW. He continues to get to the basket effectively, but once there it seems as if three shot-blockers are waiting to swat away shots or force him into awkward attempts. When you’re a Wooden Award candidate, people pay attention and nobody needs to guard Rashard Kelly at the three-point line, as they did Early, which brings help defenders closer.
“We’re going to have to shoot it better,” Marshall said. “I’ve got to help try to get them better shots, that’s my part. Give them an offense that’s more conducive to them making shots.”
Marshall wanted to get Darius Carter more shots in the lane on Thursday. Carter, in Marshall’s mind, took too many jumpers and returned to the 8-foot jump hook his coach doesn’t like. It was hard for Carter to get position against bulky Kevin Larsen and GW’s changing defenses did a good job of disrupting the Shockers. It’s rare that Carter is ineffective when he stays out of foul trouble, but Thursday was that night.
There aren’t many 6-10, 260-pound centers in the MVC, but you can be sure they will take note and try to push Carter around as much as possible.
“We wanted him to drive and score in the paint the entire time,” Marshall said. “He settled for jumpers. He was really good when he was going to the basket, trying to bury him and stick it in the rim. But that guy was bigger.”
Tekele Cotton is also struggling, shooting 28.2 percent from three-point range. Teams aren’t sagging him off like they did as a sophomore, but that day may be getting closer. Cotton’s jammed finger on his shooting hand is improving and he won’t say how much it might be affecting his shot.
“It’s getting better,” he said. “It’s a lot better than it was. I can tolerate it better.”