WICHITA, Kan. — Last season’s dream cruise through the Missouri Valley Conference is history for Wichita State. Two games into the conference schedule, things clearly are changed.
The Shockers aren’t as talented or as physical. The rest of the conference is stronger. On Sunday, No. 16 Wichita State survived a challenge from Illinois State but earned a 70-62 win at Koch Arena.
“It’s a grind,” WSU center Darius Carter said. “It’s not going to be easy. These teams know us. They know what we do. We’ve just got to keep grinding and adjust.”
The Shockers didn’t need to do much other than show up and play hard last season, when they cruised to an 18-0 conference record. Minus four seniors, including Cleanthony Early of the New York Knicks, WSU is not as awe-inspiring. The Redbirds (8-6, 0-2 MVC) stood up to Wichita State physically, won the rebounding battle and responded when the Shockers threatened to pull away.
“Our guys believed,” Redbirds coach Dan Muller said. “We talked about, no matter what the score was, keep playing.”
The Shockers (12-2, 2-0) finally wore down the Redbirds in the final minutes. Guard Fred VanVleet’s 3-pointer gave the Shockers a 60-55 lead. Forward Shaq Morris’ basket, after he blocked a shot, made it 62-55 with 2:49 remaining. VanVleet made two free throws with 1:30 to play for a 64-56 edge, and the Shockers survived. They made eight of 10 free throws in the final 1:29 to finish off the win.
“We needed to make a couple more plays down the stretch and it didn’t happen,” Illinois State center Reggie Lynch said.
Guard Ron Baker led Wichita State with 15 points. Forward Darius Carter added 14 for the Shockers, who shot 57 percent from the field in the second half, 52 percent overall.
Guard Daishon Knight led Illinois State with 24 points. The Redbirds out-rebounded Wichita State 32-27 and outscored the Shockers 15-3 on second-chance points, but Illinois State made just 36.5 percent of its shots from the floor.
The Redbirds out-rebounded WSU 32-26 and outscored the Shockers 15-3 on second-chance points. On Wednesday, Drake out-rebounded WSU, performances sure to anger WSU coach Gregg Marshall. Rebounding tops the list of attributes he values and losing that battle is a major issue.
“I don’t like that,” he said. “That’s not who I am.”
Muller called VanVleet’s three with 3:25 to play the turning point. After WSU went up 60-55, Knight missed a layup. Morris scored to give WSU a seven-point lead and it never fell below six the rest of the way.
“VanVleet’s always made big shots,” Muller said. “Every team knows it. He’s a special player in that way. He’s got a pretty unique gene.”
WSU led 29-23 at halftime and opened the second half with Baker’s three to go up nine points. Illinois State’s rebounding power took over soon after.
Forward Will Ransom’s follow dunk started the run and cut Wichita State’s lead to 34-27 early in the second half. Knight followed in his own miss for a three-point play. Illinois State forward MiKyle McIntosh followed his miss with a basket to cut the deficit to 38-34, his team’s sixth offensive rebound.
Redbirds guard Paris Lee cut the margin to 38-36 by grabbing his miss and scoring.
The Redbirds kept closing the gap but couldn’t go ahead. That gave the Shockers time to regroup with a 6-0 run that brought the crowd back into the game. Morris started the burst with two free throws. After a Redbirds miss, Wichita State rebounded and VanVleet scored in the lane for a 47-42 lead. A Redbirds turnover led to a basket for Tekele Cotton and a 49-42 edge with 10:15 to play.
Illinois State didn’t fold. It responded with a 6-1 run that cut Wichita State’s lead to 50-48.
The Shockers led 29-23 at halftime behind eight points from Baker, who made four of five first-half shots and seven of eight in the game.
NOTES: Illinois State F DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell missed his sixth game due to a broken right hand. … Redbirds F Deontae Hawkins did not make the trip. He is slowed by a stress reaction in his left foot, and he sat out three games before playing four minutes in the conference opener against
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