Key statistics: The Shockers held Northern Iowa to 16-of-49 shooting, further strangling the Missouri Valley Conference with their defense.
It is the fourth straight opponent to shoot under 38 percent. None of WSU’s MVC opponents scored more than 64 points and UNI is the fourth not to break 60. With that, WSU has won its last four games by 16 or more points, three of them on the road.
WSU’s bench outscored UNI’s 30-2 with Markis McDuffie leading the way with 15 and Conner Frankamp adding six.
The Shockers made 8 of 15 threes and shot 56.5 percent from the field.
How the game turned: A 7-0 run to end the first half didn’t do it. Two McDuffie three-pointers in the second half didn’t do it, even though they stretched WSU’s lead to 12 points.
Give the Panthers credit. They kept coming, even though they didn’t shoot well and the Shockers answered every mini-run.
McDuffie ripped the ball from Wes Washpun with 3:58 to play and rolled in a long-striding layup for a 62-52 lead. He grabbed a loose ball, coughed up by Washpun, and drove the length of the court for a dunk and a 66-55 lead with 1:56 to play.
That did it.
“I’ve got to be in the gaps when a guy drives,” McDuffie said. “He was driving all game and I just got in the gap and got a steal. The second time, the ball just fell into my hands.”
Records: WSU 13-5, 7-0 MVC; UNI 10-10, 2-5
Stat that might surprise you: WSU grabbed fewer offensive rebounds (3-5), took three fewers shots and committed one more turnover (9-8) than Northern Iowa. There are many scenarios in which those differences are significant in a low-possession game. On Wednesday, WSU shot the ball so well none of that mattered.
The Shockers made 26 of 46 shots (56.5 percent) and 8 of 15 three-pointers (53.3), both bests this season. I incorrectly called it the second-best shooting performance of the season in the game story on Wednesday night.
Stat that shouldn’t surprise you: WSU’s Fred VanVleet had six assists and one turnover, bringing his career totals to 25 assists and six turnovers in seven games against UNI.
Freshman watch: McDuffie scored in double figures on the road for a fourth straight game. He averages 13.7 points in MVC road games and 3.6 in three MVC home games.
More significantly, he continued to show his versatility by playing both forward spots.
After a bad start to the second half, WSU’s offense regained its mojo when he came off the bench and made two threes. Neither Evan Wessel nor Rashard Kelly are shooting well enough to give the Shockers a Ben Smith/Cleanthony Early-type stretch four (power forward).
McDuffie is shooting the ball that well.
Why they’re All-Americans: VanVleet, in addition to patiently dissecting UNI’s trapping defense and guarding Washpun, made a short jumper that shouldn’t go unnoticed. The Shockers started the second half with a series of blunders and the Panthers cut the lead to 36-32 with a 10-2 run.
VanVleet calmly sank a 12-footer for a six-point lead and UNI didn’t get any closer.
Baker, in addition to scoring 21 points, grabbing seven rebounds and guarding Washpun, made all eight of his free throws. He is 23 of 24 from the line in his past five games and has made 21 in a row since missing his first foul shot against Southern Illinois.
“You can’t pigeonhole him and say he’s a shooter or he’s a ball handler or he’s a defender,” Marshall said. “He does everything really well. In baseball terms, he’d be a five-tool guy.”
Rotation watch: WSU sophomore center Shaq Morris played 20 minutes, his most since playing 24 against Iowa in November. Marshall called it Morris’ best game of the season.
“I agree,” Morris said. “Other than foul trouble, I felt like I helped the team out by getting on the glass and trying to defend and trying to finish everything inside.”
He scored 10 points, making 4 of 5 shots, blocked two shots and grabbed four rebounds. He ran the floor and worked to get position against UNI’s Bennett Koch in the second half and drew Koch’s fifth foul on that play.
Quite a switch. Morris said he took advantage of Koch’s tired legs. WSU needed all four of its big men because of fouls and that depth paid off.
“I was looking at him while I was on the side and I was seeing that he was tired,” Morris said. “I was thinking just straight beat him down the court. Coach (Marshall) has been harping on the bigs to get position and so that’s what I tried to do.”
It is the fifth time in Morris’ career he played 20 or more minutes. He made a case for more playing time with an all-around effort of focus and hustle.
▪ Senior season is a time for memories.
VanVleet thought about his 1-2 record at the McLeod Center during Wednesday’s shootaround. It is the only MVC arena in which he has a losing record.
“That was in the back of my head,” he said. “I hate that I’m settling for .500 here, but it’s a hell of a place to play. Tremendous team and program that they’ve had the past couple years.”
▪ Every time the Shockers made UNI guard Wes Washpun shoot a long two-pointer, victory. Every time their defense forced him toward the sideline, victory.
Washpun finished with 14 points and seven assists, but he made 4 of 13 shots and committed four turnovers. Last season, it was easy to forget he committed five turnovers with three assists in UNI’s70-54 teardown of the Shockers in the McLeod Center. Washpun’s influence on that game certainly left an impression and WSU hasn’t let him run free again.
“As dynamic as he is, you can’t really stop him or shut him down,” VanVleet said. “You just try to make him do the things he’s not great at. We’d much rather have him shooting than coming downhill and getting to the rim and creating for others.”
▪ The Shockers won their eighth consecutive MVC road game, tied for their third-longest streak since 1949-50. Last season’s loss at UNI snapped the record 27-game streak.
▪ Marshall grabbed win No. 217 at WSU. He trails Ralph Miller (1951-64) by three atop WSU’s career list. Marshall is 217-81 in nine seasons. Miller went 220-133 in 13 seasons.
Around the MVC
Southern Illinois defeated Indiana State 79-66 to open a two-game gap between second-place Evansville and the Salukis (6-1) and fourth-place Indiana State, Missouri State and Illinois State (4-3).
The win clinched SIU’s first winning season since 2008, prompting a shoutout to bacterial disease and a towel-throwing by coach Barry Hinson. The Salukis survived a season-low eight points from guard Anthony Beane.
The Sycamores play host to Evansville on Sunday, which looks like a must-win for them to keep pace with the top three.
The bottom of the MVC slipped further with UNI losing. The Panthers are 2-5 and play at Illinois State on Saturday.
Next up: vs. Bradley (3-17, 1-6), 2 p.m. Saturday (Cox 22, KEYN, 103.7-FM).
WSU evened its series against UNI at 26-all on Wednesday. That leaves Bradley (71-67) and SIU (48-44) as MVC schools with an edge on the Shockers.