Shockers’ improved shooting numbers hold off New Mexico State

Evan Pflugradt

Nearly two hours before the 10,506 seats of Charles Koch Arena filled for a sellout crowd, things were relatively quiet.

Just the way Wichita State guard Zach Brown wanted them to be.

Brown couldn’t wait to get the bitter taste of Saturday’s home-loss to Northern Iowa out of his mouth. He stepped onto the court more than two hours before tip Monday to set up some shooting drills. In the midst of an empty stadium, Brown worked on attacking the Shockers’ most challenging opponent — the three-point line.

“I realized I needed to do more,” Brown said. “When the opportunity presents itself in the game, I need to be able to knock them in with confidence.”

In no short time, the opportunity presented itself. He raised for a three-pointer in the corner over New Mexico State forward Pascal Siakam; the ball grazed the bottom of the net.

A few possessions later, Brown drew contact driving on Siakam. His shot fell and he swished a free throw to complete the old-school, three-point-play.

Things were only heating up. The next touch, he hit for a second three-pointer; WSU tallied an early four-point lead in the game. He outscored the Aggies 9-6 by himself in four minutes of play.

Brown finished with 11 points and four rebounds as the Shockers defeated New Mexico State on Monday, 71-41.

“I focused on doing the simple things coach tells me to do,” he said.

An non-conference game scheduled for Dec. 28 was postponed when snow kept the Aggies stranded in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

“As it turned out, that was a good thing,” Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall said. “I didn’t know going in, wedging it into a conference schedule, we needed to play.”

After snapping their home-winning streak Saturday, the Shockers continued on another streak — a 37-game nonconference home-winning streak.

“I feel like it’s an odd phenomena to have a 43-game winning streak in the city limits of Wichita, and when you finally lose, I felt like I let people down,” Marshall said. “I know the players who have so much invested in it felt the same. I needed a psychologist, our players needed one, as well.”

It’s win-or-lose mentality for the aging veterans of Wichita State, but a bigger picture sets in on how to engineer better basketball.

The Shockers entered Monday losing two of their last three games. In those losses, WSU shot a dismal 22 percent shooting-percentage — a mere 13 makes on 58 attempts.

Fred VanVleet scored eight straight points in the first half and Anton Grady scored six straight as the Shockers mounted a 21-6 run over the Aggies to close out the first half. Conner Frankamp added a baseline floater and had a buzzer-beater three to send the team into halftime with a 37-24 lead.

Baker led scoring with 13 points. VanVleet added 12 points and seven assists. Their defensive efforts forced NMSU to more turnovers than made baskets, 20 turnovers and 16 field goals. WSU surrendered only three turnovers, the first with 8:19 remaining in the game.

“Anytime you can turn it over three times, it helps your offense flow a lot better,” Baker said.

Baker collected career win No. 100 and surpassed 1,500 career points.

“This one helped,” Baker said.