Wichita State hasn’t lost a game inside Koch Arena in nearly three years, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a while before they lose another one.
It didn’t happen Sunday afternoon, as the Shockers used a second-half surge to get the best of Indiana State, 82-62, before another sellout crowd, the 38th in a row.
Wichita State’s home winning streak — including 37 games at Koch and three at Intrust Bank Arena — has reached 40. It’s the second longest in the country behind Arizona’s 49.
I don’t know what players on opposing teams think as they board a plane or bus to come to Wichita to play the Shockers, but I’m guessing it’s crossed the mind of at least a few that it’s time that could be better spent.
Koch Arena is a basketball party house. Fans go there knowing they’re going to have fun, if not see much of a game.
Of the 40 straight at home, all but five have been decided by double digits. The average margin is 18.6 points and 14 have been blowouts of 20 points or more.
“I feel pretty confident when we play in this arena,” said senior guard Ron Baker, who was out with an injury when the Shockers last lost at home to Evansville on Feb. 27, 2013 and kept alive his perfect record (41-0) in home games. “The crowd is fun to play for and it’s always nice to have their support whether we’re pushing away with a lead of whether a team is knocking our lead down.”
But with dominance does potentially come complacency. And Baker admits that it’s sometimes difficult not to take the Shockers’ home-court advantage for granted.
“Personally, I feel like sometimes I get a little too comfortable when I play here,” he said. “For whatever reason, and it’s my fault, but when the crowd is cheering like it does, I can get a little too relaxed. You feel like they’re supporting you and nothing could go wrong so maybe you relax for a little bit and something bad happens.
“But that’s a personal issue.”
There’s really been only one time during this streak that the Shockers had to pull out a game it looked like they were going to lose and that was last season against Alabama, a game Wichita State won 53-52 in mid-December after trailing by 11 points with 5:50 remaining.
Evansville made its game this season at Koch Arena with the Shockers close, losing 67-64, but it never felt like Wichita State was going to lose.
Those have been the only two games decided by fewer than six points during this incredible streak, the fourth-longest in Missouri Valley Conference history behind Bradley and Oklahoma State (46) and Cincinnati, which won 86 straight at home from 1957-64.
“We practice here every day,” said senior Evan Wessel, another senior who wasn’t in uniform for the loss to Evansville three seasons ago and is 46-0 in his career at home. “We’re used to playing in this arena. Then you add the fans we have and they always get us playing better whether we’re up or down. We feed off their energy.”
The Shockers get fat off that energy.
Sunday’s game was close for awhile but Wichita State rode its seniors, especially Baker and fellow guard Fred VanVleet, as they combined for 45 points. VanVleet, looking quicker and shiftier than he has all season after battling a bad hamstring, had 29. He and Baker combined to make 13 of 21 shots, all 15 of their free throws and prove once again that at least until they leave town, the Shockers’ invincibility at home won’t be cracked easily.
A tight first half became a lopsided second as WSU held Indiana State to 27.6 percent shooting after halftime. Besides Baker and VanVleet, the rest of the Shockers made only 11 of 38 shots.
Indiana State, meanwhile, is one of the many Valley teams that struggles for interior offense. All but 17 of the Sycamores’ points were scored by players 6-foot-2 and smaller.
“We played good at times but they maybe make a run and we don’t handle it well,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing.
He, like so many others, paused to praise VanVleet and Baker, then said he can’t wait until they’re gone. Join the club, coach, although no one in Wichita is a member.
Not to be a downer, but those two and the other Shocker seniors have only six home games remaining, the next of which is Saturday against Bradley. Their time as Shockers is winding down as everyone waits to see what kind of bow they’ll put on their Wichita State careers.
Bradley, Loyola, Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Missouri State and Illinois State are the remaining home opponents. And I, for one, don’t like their chances.