TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Wichita State may not be ranked, but they are certainly not surprising anyone in the Missouri Valley Conference.
The Shockers, propelled by a combined 47 points from junior Darral Willis Jr. and sophomore Markis McDuffie, weathered a lively Hulman Center crowd to survive, 80-72, against Indiana State. The victory was Wichita State’s 52nd regular season conference win over the last four years.
“There’s a lot of people that doubted us,” said Wichita State junior Zach Brown. “It’s challenging for us, but we’ve got to deal with adversity and get through it. This shows these guys got heart.”
Indiana State raised the ‘heart’ rate of Wichita, Kansas, early on. Five points by sophomore Donovan Franklin landed a 15-9 advantage for the Sycamores.
Gregg Marshall’s group quickly closed the gap, however. The Shockers used a 16-5 spurt to seize a five-point lead. Back-to-back Landry Shamet triples, the last of which came with 8:07 remaining, capped off the segment.
While the Sycamores challenged and fought for the lead, Wichita State’s Willis Jr. found his rhythm in the opening half. In fact, the JUCO transfer solely fought off the opposition; he scored seven straight to put the Shockers ahead, 34-30.
“I just came in focused,” Darral Willis Jr. said. “I was just locked in and ready to keep getting the ball.”
Indiana State charged back and sent the teams to halftime tied at 38. One of three Matt Van Scyoc three-pointers knotted the score in the final minute.
The first four minutes of the second half brought four lead changes. Yet, once the Shockers held a 45-44 advantage, they refused to allow another tie.
After the first media timeout, Wichita State’s defense locked in, forcing three turnovers and Indiana State to go 0-for-5 in a four-minute period.
With their defense leading to offense, Wichita State ran out to their largest lead, 58-47. Though, by no means was the game over.
Through the first 32 minutes, Sycamores’ freshman Jordan Barnes had no points.
He finished with 10.
Scoring all his points in a three-minute span, Barnes pulled Indiana State within two at the 3:42 mark.
The margin would be the closest the Sycamores would get.
A Wills Jr. layup and Markis McDuffie triple with 1:25 remaining re-established a firm Wichita State lead, 76-69.
Indiana State failed to make a field goal in the final 3:42.
The Missouri Valley Conference’s second-highest scorer Brenton Scott was smothered by Wichita State’s defense. The junior was limited to 14 points and made just 3-of-14 shot attempts.
Interestingly, Indiana State head coach Greg Lansing talked more about his star’s ability to make decisions rather than his opponent’s defense.
“He’s got to play the right way on the offensive end,” Lansing said. “He’s got to trust his teammates, believe in his teammates, and get more than one assist in a game.
“He’s not listening to me. He’s not trusting his teammates. I’m telling him in the huddle, ‘You have to pass’ and we [still] got guys on the perimeter standing wide open.”
Matt Van Scyoc finished with 11 points and 3 rebounds for the Sycamores.
Wichita State’s Darrel Willis Jr. and Markis McDuffie both left Indiana with career-high (Division-I) point totals; Willis Jr. had 25 while the 2015-16 MVC Freshman of the Year netted 22. Willis Jr. also recorded his second double-double of the season while McDuffie grabbed 7 points. Freshman Landry Shamet chipped in 14 points.
Overall, the Shockers out-rebounded Indiana State, 47-30. 16 of the 47 boards were offensive rebounds.
“A couple of our plans going into the game was being able to try to keep them off the glass as much as possible,” Lansing said. “We’d like to be able to hold them to 12 or below offensive rebounds, and they had 16. You take 4 or 5 of those away and it might be a different outcome.”
By falling in defeat, the 6-7 Indiana State Sycamores have dropped three of their last four. Greg Lansing’s club will travel west for a Saturday road test versus the Missouri State Bears.
For the 7th consecutive year, 11-3 Wichita State has won their conference opener. The Shockers are now on a two-game win streak and winning games by an average margin of 26.7 points per game. The Shockers host their conference home-opener against Bradley on Sunday.
– P. Wesner