DES MOINES, Iowa — Road game, home game — it doesn’t seem to matter much to the No. 5 Wichita State Shockers.
The Shockers handled the Drake Bulldogs 78-61 on Saturday at the Knapp Center in front of a season-high crowd of 6,127. The WSU fans, outnumbered by at least 5,000 or so, made more than their share of noise.
“It feels like Shocker nation,” WSU guard Nick Wiggins said. “It feels like a home atmosphere. When we scored, our crowd was louder than when they scored.”
Wichita State (21-0, 8-0 MVC) took the jazzed-up Drake crowd out of the game early in the second half and built its lead to 25 points before clearing the bench. The Shockers started the second half with a 13-6 run that built a 50-35 lead. That served as a prelude to the clincher, an 11-0 run that gave the Shockers a 65-44 lead with eight minutes remaining.
Drake coach Ray Giacoletti saw no issues with Wichita State’s lofty ranking.
“That team can go in any place, anywhere … because of the toughness factor,” he said. “They don’t hang their hat on just one thing. They’re going to out-rebound you. They’re going to out-tough you. They’re going to out-defend you. As far as a weakness, I’m not really sure what a weakness is.”
Forward Cleanthony Early led the way with 19 points while guard Ron Baker pitched in 14 for the Shockers. Forward Nick Wiggins came off the bench to score 11 for Wichita State, while guard Aaron Hawley led Drake (11-9, 2-6) with 16 points.
Early, named last week to the mid-season Wooden Award list, made 7 of 10 shots and also grabbed seven rebounds.
“He is very versatile,” Hawley said. “That’s what good players do — he’ll stretch you out and then when you over-play him, he’ll take you to the rim.”
WSU outscored the smaller Bulldogs 32-10 in the lane and scored 23 points off 13 Drake turnovers. The Shockers out-rebounded Drake 34-20.
Wichita State faced another boisterous crowd in Wednesday’s win at Illinois State. The Shockers stumbled through a turnover-filled first half and trailed. They didn’t want a repeat of those problems at Drake. With the game in hand, WSU coach Gregg Marshall was able to play his bench liberally in the second half and save his starters some minutes.
“We played pretty well at the beginning of both halves,” Marshall said. “Better than we’ve been. It’s nice to go on the road and get a win, any time, especially when you can do it like that.”
Drake cut WSU’s lead to 10 points with 11:32 remaining in the game. The crowd stirred and the Bulldogs had a chance to put pressure on the Shockers.
Not for long.
The Shockers quickly beat down that rally, starting with a drive by Wiggins that ended with a foul and a free throw for a 57-44 lead. After a Drake turnover, Early swished a three from the win. Early rose high over the rim to dunk forward Evan Wessel’s missed three. Then Early found Wiggins under the basket for a reverse layup and foul. The free throw ended the 11-0 run and gave the Shockers a 65-44 lead.
The Shockers led Drake 37-29 at halftime, taking control of a fast-paced game late in the half. The Shockers forced three straight turnovers to build a 35-26 lead. Forward Darius Carter’s three-point play made it 33-26 and guard Fred VanVleet followed with two free throws. Drake made one basket in its final nine possessions of the half.
Neither team enjoyed success on defense in the first half. The Shockers overpowered Drake when it played man-to-man defense and shot over its zone. The Bulldogs dribbled through WSU’s press for layups and made 3-pointers to keep the larger-than-normal crowd buzzing.
Wichita State forward Tekele Cotton started a 10-5 run with a layup for a 17-15 lead. Early followed with his second three-point play of the first half to put the Shockers up 20-15. The Shockers pushed their edge to six points on Early’s three from the wing to lead 30-24.
NOTES: Wichita State matched the 1964-65 team with its 8-0 MVC start. The last MVC team to start 8-0 or better was the 2008 Drake team at 13-0. … The Shockers
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