Dancin’: Shockers relieve any NCAA Tournament doubt
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Wichita State’s cruise to the NCAA Tournament was interrupted in mid-January by Illinois State’s Paris Lee, the Missouri Valley Player of the Year.
In Normal, Illinois, the Shockers stumbled their first and only conference loss of the season. In Wichita, they resurrected themselves, freeing up some doubt with a 41-point thrashing in Koch Arena.
Yet, in St. Louis, all the stakes were raised when the two met a third time. The winner stood to gain bragging rights, a trophy, and most importantly, an automatic entry into the NCAA Tournament. For Illinois State, their first since 1998. For Wichita State, their sixth consecutive.
Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall addressed his team ahead of the game, “This is a sure-fire ticket to the dance,” he said. “Otherwise, we leave it up to other people.
Marshall, who has had his NCAA Tournament considerations in the hands of the selection committee four of the last five seasons, couldn’t stand another week of stress. Neither could his players.
The Shockers defeated Illinois State 71-51 in Sunday’s championship game.
“It’s stress free,” WSU’s Shaq Morris said.
Morris’ expectations are far from being met. Yet, with a secured bid for the NCAA Tournament, he’s relieved.
“We can get better,” he said. But a week free from worry about making the tournament, Morris said the Shockers can focus on the little things without being burdened by worry. “We’ll see the things that would stop us from going far in the tournament so we can adjust those things.”
Since the Valley moved the MVC tournament to St. Louis, the Shockers had only made the championship twice. Illinois State, led the conference in runner-up finishes with seven.
“It feels great,” WSU head coach Gregg Marshall said. “It’s the third title in the last 30 years, two in four years. This one was not as easy, but our guys played really well in the tournament.”
WSU guard Conner Frankamp wasn’t phased by the return of Mikyle McIntosh, who had missed play in Wichita with a mid-season knee injury. Frankamp scored 13 points alone in the game’s first 20 minutes.
“I thought Frankamp and the boys were marvelous,” Marshall said. “We built the lead steadily.”
Frankamp surpassed his previous career best by one point, finishing with 19 points and three rebounds.
“I was getting some open looks,” Frankamp said. “My teammates just did a great job at finding me.”
Illinois State’s Phil Fayne fouled out halfway through the second half after an intentional foul on WSU junior forward Darral Willis, Jr.
Illinois State, who is on the bubble for most bracketologists, can be concerned for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Announcements will be made next Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
“They had a great season,” WSU sophomore Markis McDuffie said. “I hope they get into the tournament. That looks good for the MVC.”
View photo gallery: http://thesunflower.com/15505/sports/photos-shockers-crowned-mvc-champions/