WICHITA, Kan. — Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall isn’t sure whether his players overlooked Loyola-Chicago on Wednesday.
The Shockers’ shooting provided some evidence that their minds had wandered ahead to a showdown with 18th-ranked Northern Iowa on Saturday.
Marshall was sure junior guard Fred VanVleet wasn’t looking ahead, as VanVleet scored a career-high 27 points to help 12th-ranked Wichita State beat Loyola 58-47 on Wednesday at Koch Arena.
“He looked like the one guy, for sure, from the tip who was ready to play,” Marshall said. “Thank goodness. If he’s on the other team, we lose.”
Wichita State had reason to look ahead. It has a chance to knock second-place Northern Iowa two games back when the teams meet Saturday. It will be the first meeting of ranked MVC teams since 1982.
“That is one thing I did tell them: If you play like this on Saturday, you’re going to lose,” Marshall said.
It took almost 10 minutes into the second half for the Shockers (19-2, 9-0 Missouri Valley Conference) to build a comfortable lead. A 9-0 run gave them a 44-30 lead, capped by junior guard Ron Baker’s 3-pointer.
Wichita State held Loyola (13-8, 3-6) scoreless for almost six minutes to build that lead.
Wichita State is 9-0 in the MVC for the second straight season. It extended its modern-day MVC record to 27 straight conference wins and its home win streak, also a record, to 28 games.
VanVleet made 10 of 16 shots and scored 16 of his points in the first half to prop up a struggling offense. Baker added 16, 14 in the second half.
VanVleet is usually happy to hand out assists and score when necessary. It became obvious early that Wichita State needed him to score this time.
“I always test the waters early in the game, see what’s there,” VanVleet said. “I can be that aggressive every game if I chose to do so. Tonight, it worked out.”
Wichita State held its seventh straight opponent under 60 points, and three of the past four haven’t broken 50. Loyola made 17 baskets while missing 23, and committed 16 turnovers. Junior guard Devon Turk led Loyola with nine points.
“Their guards, they just clamp on you,” Ramblers coach Porter Moser said. “They take you out of it.
The Ramblers kept the pace slow, unafraid to run down the shot clock. The Shockers made the most of opportunities to break in the second half to pull away. Guard Tekele Cotton dunked on a break for a 38-30 lead. After good defense by Shockers forward Shaq Morris forced forward Montel James to miss a shot in the lane, Cotton rebounded and pushed the ball to find VanVleet for a layup and a 40-30 lead.
Baker pushed Wichita State’s lead to 44-30 with a 3-pointer. VanVleet then hit one from long range, and Baker made another 3-pointer for a 52-39 lead with 1:54 to play.
“Timely shots by Baker and VanVleet,” Moser said. “It’s the same script. That’s what great players do. They keep doing it.”
NOTES: Wichita State sophomore walk-on Zach Bush is out for the season after undergoing surgery on his right foot to repair a stress fracture. Bush played in three games … Loyola-Chicago played its third game without starting guard Milton Doyle, out with a sprained right ankle … Wichita State senior forward Darius Carter started, but played only six minutes. Marshall said he chose to rest Carter, who is bothered by back pain. He did not play in the second half of Sunday’s win over Drake … Wichita State improved to 4-0 against Loyola since the Ramblers joined the MVC.
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