No. 4 Shockers hang on
By MICHAEL MAROT
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall looked at the scoreboard with 85 seconds left Wednesday night, saw the two-point lead and challenged his players to do one thing.
Keep Indiana State scoreless.
The fourth-ranked Shockers heeded their coach's advice, outscored the Sycamores 7-2 over the final 2:01 and hung on for a 65-58 victory that kept them unbeaten.
"At one point, Coach said, 'If they don't score again, we win,"' guard Ron Baker said, referring to the discussion during a timeout. "So our focus was on rebounding and defense the rest of the way."
That's always been a primary focus for Marshall's team, and it's a big reason the Shockers (24-0, 11-0 Missouri Valley) extended their school record winning streak, are 11-0 in conference play for the first time in school history and are the first Missouri Valley Conference team to open a season with 24 consecutive wins since Indiana State and Larry Bird went 33-0 in 1978-79.
There's another reason these Shockers and No. 2 Syracuse (22-0) are the only unbeaten teams in major college basketball.
Wichita State is just plain tough.
Players and coaches refused to let their weather delayed arrival in Terre Haute make them sluggish.
They refused to give in to a boisterous crowd that intended to do everything it could to help the Sycamores protect their home court and Bird's legacy as the Valley's last perfect team to reach postseason play without a loss.
They ignored the unusually packed student section that was so eager to get into the game they were lining up more than two hours before tip-off in chilly temperatures and about 6 inches of new snow cover. They were not deterred by an 8-for-23 shooting effort in the second half or the fact that they were outrebounded, a rare occurence.
Instead, the Shockers just went back to the basics.
"We won it with defense in the second half," Marshall said. "...We didn't shoot the ball nearly as well in the second half as we did the first. But in the second half, it was all about rebounding and defense."
The Shockers were led by Cleanthony Early, who scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, and Tekele Cotton with 14 points. Chadrack Lufile finished with eight points and 10 rebounds.
On this night, against the revved up Sycamores, it was barely good enough.
Manny Arop had 16 points and Jake Odum and Kristian Smith added 11 each for Indiana State (17-6, 8-3).
But the Sycamores couldn't avoid a season sweep to stay in the conference title hunt. Instead, they lost their third straight to Marshall's team, their first game of the season at home and only their 11th home game since Greg Lansing took over as coach four years ago. Four of those losses at the Hulman Center have come to Wichita State and this may have been the most bitter of all.
"I told the guys that I thought we did everything we could do but put the ball in the basket," Lansing said, noting the Sycamores second half shooting percentages of 20 percent overall and 13.3 percent from 3-point range. "To beat one of the best teams in the country, you just can't do that."
That wasn't Indiana State's only problem. The Sycamores missed four of eight free throws in the final 4 minutes -- shots that would have put even more pressure on Wichita State.
They also started both halves sluggishly, opening the game with a flurry of turnovers that forced them to fight back from an early 11-3 deficit. When they thought they had finally gotten even at halftime, on what was initially ruled a 3-pointer the officials changed the call to a 2-pointer, handing Wichita State a 36-35 lead.
Arop delivered again by starting the second half with a 10-foot leaner to give the Sycamores their only lead of the game, 37-36.
Wichita State then forced six straight misses, ran out to a 50-39 lead with 12:34 to play and appeared headed to its seventh straight double-digit win.
One problem: The feisty Sycamores came back again, closing to 58-56 with 2:01 to go and calling a timeout with 1:25 left to set up a potentially tying or go-ahead basket.
The message from Marshall was simple and the Shockers didn't give up another basket to hold on.
"That was quite a battle, quite a game against a tremendous team and with a great atmosphere," Marshall said. "That's why it's so hard to win on the road."