WICHITA, Kan. — In two weeks, Illinois State’s basketball team will get another crack at Wichita State.
The bruises might not have healed by then.
Wichita State flexed its considerable muscles and showed the Redbirds what the best defense in the Missouri Valley Conference — and maybe the nation — is all about. ISU shot 32.7 percent from the field as the No. 6-ranked and undefeated Shockers rolled to a 66-47 victory over the Redbirds before a sold-out Koch Arena crowd of 10,506.
“We did have some moments where I did not think guys competed hard enough, and that’s not OK,” said ISU coach Dan Muller. “Down the stretch we did compete, but we’ve got to be ready to play. You can’t beat one of the best teams in the country on the road unless you’re locked in ready to go. We weren’t top to bottom.”
Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker led a balanced scoring attack with 11 points each for Wichita State (16-0, 3-0 MVC) as the Shockers extended their school-record winning streak and remained one of five unbeaten teams left in the country.
The Redbirds (8-7, 1-2), who are 1-2 against top 25 ranked teams this season, trailed 14-12 after Bobby Hunter sank a 3-pointer with 12:10 left in the first half before Wichita State’s defensive pressure took a toll.
ISU went almost seven minutes without a basket and had six turnovers in that stretch. That helped the Shockers go on a 17-4 run to build the lead to 31-16 with 4:14 left. The Shockers outscored ISU, 13-0, on points off turnovers in the first half.
“We drove down the lane and were soft with the ball,” said Hunter. “They (the officials) are not going to call very many fouls in the paint, so we have to be more physical when driving down the lane.”
Zach Lofton got on a roll with a three-point play, 12-foot fade and 3-pointer to help ISU close the gap to 35-24. Lofton and Nick Zeisloft missed open 3-point shots which could have cut the deficit to single digits before Darius Carter’s outstretched tip-in of an Early missed 3-pointer at the buzzer put the Shockers ahead, 37-24, at halftime.
Any thoughts of a second-half comeback quickly diminished.
The Redbirds missed their first four shots after the intermission. Wichita State got the ball inside to 6-foot-9, 266-pound Chadrack Lufile for two layups and built the lead to 41-24 as Muller was forced to call a timeout and settle his team down.
“We told our team coming out of the locker room we were down five,” said Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. “We remained hungry and played harder than we did in the first half.”
Wichita State made sure the Redbirds never got comfortable. The lead ballooned to 49-27 on Nick Wiggins’ 3-pointer. ISU made three of its first 11 shots and trailed 54-30 after Early’s three-point play with 10:53 left and the Shockers cruised to the finish line as the Redbirds’ 47 points were a season low.
Hunter paced ISU with 11 points, while Zeisloft added nine. Both sank three 3-pointers. ISU’s leading scorer, Daishon Knight, scored five points, all in the last four minutes, while Lofton went 3 of 18 from the field and had eight.
“We didn’t handle the moment very well. We don’t shoot that many air balls, usually,” said Muller. “A team like Wichita State takes advantage of those opportunities and we didn’t. We had some of our better offensive players play poorly.”
Zeisloft didn’t think his teammates who have never been inside rowdy Koch Arena were intimidated.
“We been tested already throughout the year,” he said. “They’re a great team. Maybe in the first few minutes (there were nerves), but after a while we got going and they got going and we didn’t get it back from there.”
While ISU committed 15 turnovers (at least one by all nine players), Wichita State point guard Fred VanVleet had 10 assists with no turnovers. VanVleet has not committed a turnover in the last four games and only two in the last six games.
ISU faces Valley newcomer Loyola (6-9, 1-2), which is under the direction of ex-ISU coach Porter Moser, at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Redbird Arena. It will mark the 25th anniversary of the first men’s basketball game at Redbird Arena.