Illinois State claims top spot, Shockers suffer first MVC loss

Two 5-0 MVC teams met Saturday, and Illinois State prevailed for the second-straight time against the Shockers at home, winning 76-62.


Brian Hayes

Illinois State knocked the Shockers from the top spot in the Missouri Valley for the first time since 2014. Wichita State started out with a 5-0 record in the Valley before a more-experienced ISU team dominated the floor in almost every stat category.

When Wichita State last traveled to Normal, Illinois, Fred VanVleet, the MVC player of the year, put Wichita State up with a three-pointer 20 seconds into the game. As they did for much of that season, the Shockers shot out to a fast start. So much so, that KenPom had the No. 21 ranked Shockers, who lead by 16 at halftime, with a 98.5 percent chance of topping the Redbirds after the first 20 minutes. But the odds don’t always matter, as Illinois State will willingly tell you. Just ask Paris Lee, who rallied the Redbirds to a monumental come-from-behind victory a year ago.

In Lee’s history against the Shockers, he doesn’t seem to mind the odds or the stakes. He didn’t seem to care that in 20 years, two Missouri Valley teams, each with a 5-0 conference record, have met only three times, and he let his “don’t care” attitude dictate the MVC’s high-stakes game on Saturday night.

Lee, who is in the running for conference player of the year, fired the game’s first shot, a three-pointer, 12 seconds into the game and hit, giving the Redbirds an early lead. Despite one pestering attempt after another from Wichita State, Lee’s demeanor never seemed to change for 40 minutes.

Illinois State settled the Shockers’ streak of six wins and a perfect conference start with disruptive zone defense,  streaky three-point shooting and an exclamation point dunk from Lee to Mikyle McIntosh in the game’s final 15 seconds.

Wichita State fell to second place in the MVC for the first time since 2014; Illinois State leads it for the first time since 1998.

The Shockers sent junior Daishon Smith at Lee first. Lee wasn’t bothered much, splitting the defense early and opening teammates for an open three-pointer, and a running layup against three WSU defenders in transition.

With an early six-point lead, the Shockers searched for ways to slow the show.

The help came when Lee settled on the bench for a brief break, and the Shockers took to inside the paint with Darral Willis, Jr., Zach Brown and Shaq Morris who ruined the Redbirds’ early mojo.

Conner Frankamp, with deep range, gave WSU their first lead shortly after the 8-minute mark in the first half; ISU tied and then went ahead. Whatever the Shockers hit, the Redbirds matched. 

Midway through the first half, ISU’s Dan Muller switched to a zone defense and everything changed for Wichita State, who missed 10 of their last 11 attempts of the first half, after starting the game hitting nine of their first 18.

The Shockers offense, went nearly seven minutes without a made basket. Willis ended the drought with a two-point jumper with 40 seconds left in the half. Illinois State jumped ahead nine points in the final 4:55 of the half.

Markis McDuffie, who is rated the most efficient scorer in the MVC by KenPom, hit a deep three with 17:52 left in the second half, changing the Shockers’ pace offensively.

McDuffie scored the Shockers first eight points of the half, bailing out a nine-point halftime deficit, but only for briefly. 

Frankamp’s third three-pointer of the game put the Shockers within one point — as good as it would get for Wichita State in the final 20.

Muller called the Redbirds back to a zone defense, the same that pulled together an Illinois State win a year ago.

ISU’s Mikyle McIntosh hit back-to-back baskets and WSU’s Zach Brown traveled in open court as ISU sprung five points ahead.

With under 10 minutes remaining, make or break time came for the Shockers as Lee passed to an open shot for Deonte Hawkins, who put Gregg Marshall down double digits, prompting a timeout for a final chance.

McDuffie delivered a running reverse layup, but couldn’t control McIntosh on the other end, who continued to score in stride. 

With under six minutes remaining, a baseline drive and a lob was stopped by Nurger, who drew a charge, keeping Wichita State within one possession. 

Lee, unfazed, wasted no time. He set the game plan firing for a three-pointer. Teammates Hawkins and McIntosh followed the play with two more Redbird threes as ISU spread to 10 above the Shockers with under four minutes remaining.

WSU missed eight of nine shots to have a chance at a comeback, while ISU had it all on offense, hitting 4-5 on the other end.

Illinois State shot 61.9 percent in the second half and 57.1 percent from three.

Lee, among four other teammates, scored in double-digits.

McIntosh led all scorers with 20 points on 7-9 shooting. Lee dished six assists.

Willis and Landry Shamet tied with 14 points for Wichita State. Willis also led with nine rebounds; Shamet pulled in eight of his own. Shaq Morris led the Shockers in assists with three.