No. 6 Shockers beat Illinois State, get to 16-0
By JEFFREY PARSON
WICHITA -- After his team won its 14th straight game, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall challenged his players to make vast improvements on defense.
Two games later, he will need to find something else to harp on.
The sixth-ranked Shockers cruised past Illinois State 66-47 Wednesday night, holding the Redbirds to 32.7 percent shooting (18 of 55).
Wichita State (16-0, 3-0 Missouri Valley Conference) managed to improve on the 33.9 percent shooting it limited Northern Iowa to on Sunday.
"We are just more engaged as a group on that end," Marshall said. "We didn't have many individual breakdowns."
Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker each scored 11 points for the Shockers, who extended both the longest winning streak and best start to a season in program history.
Bobby Hunter came off the bench to score a team-high 11 points for Illinois State (8-7, 1-2), but the Redbirds' starters were a combined 10 of 42 from the floor.
"It's something we talked about every day," Baker said. "We have to improve defensively. We have to improve defensively. We have to improve defensively. It was more than once daily, really."
Already up by 13 at halftime, Wichita State started the second half with seven straight points. Chadrack Lufile scored the first four down low, and Tekele Cotton hit a 3-pointer for a 44-24 lead.
"That's a stretch when I don't think we competed as hard as we could," Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. "We dropped our heads a little bit. They hit big shots. A lot of their 3-pointers came right at the end of the shot clock, and it was a little demoralizing. But you can't let it be."
An 8-3 Shockers run featuring Nick Wiggins hitting a 3-pointer and converting an alley-oop slam pushed their advantage to 54-30 with 10:53 remaining.
The spurt also contained the worst moments of the night for Wichita State.
Starting point guard Fred VanVleet had his left leg bent awkwardly in a fight for a rebound. VanVleet immediately fell to the floor before walking to the locker room to be checked by doctors.
"It was a scary kind of thing," VanVleet said. "I don't even remember what happened. I had the ball, and I think he went for it, too, and my knee pushed inward."
VanVleet has been Wichita State's best player lately. In the previous four games, he averaged 18.3 points while compiling 21 assists and just one turnover. So the crowd was subdued until Baker motioned for noise after throwing the alley-oop pass to Wiggins.
VanVleet soon returned to the bench and played much of the final 10 minutes, finishing the game with six points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and no turnovers.
Wichita State cruised upon his return. Darius Carter's layup off VanVleet's alley-oop gave the Shockers a 63-40 lead with 3:54 remaining, and Marshall started calling for walk-ons to enter the game.
It was one of many lob passes for the Shockers.
"They start four guards and a big in that 2-3 zone," VanVleet said. "So when we have 6-8 and 6-9 guys who can jump up to the square, we wanted to take advantage of that as much as we can."
The Shockers started taking control midway through the first half. After a 3-pointer from Illinois State's Paris Lee made the score 14-12 Shockers, Baker answered with a deep 3 to beat the shot clock buzzer.
That started a 17-4 Wichita State run that featured 3-pointers from Baker and Cotton. The Shockers' first-half advantage grew to as many as 15 after two free throws by Baker made it 31-16 with 4:14 to play in the half.
Illinois State had four straight turnovers at one point during the run.
"Our turnovers in the lane really cost us," Muller said. "We got bumped in there, looked for a foul and didn't get the call. Then we'd play bad transition defense."
Carter's flying tip-in at the buzzer gave Wichita State a 37-24 halftime lead.