Anton Grady revitalizes post-play as Shockers outlast Evansville


The Shocker bench celebrates a three-point basket Wednesday at Charles Koch Arena against Evansville. Wichita State outlasted the Purple Aces 67-64 to remain undefeated in Missouri Valley Conference play.

Evan Pflugradt

After scoring seven first-half points coming off the bench, senior forward Anton Grady looked revitalized, as did Wichita State’s post-play.

With a three-pointer from Conner Frankamp, the Shockers took a nine-point lead over the Aces at the 13:13 mark in the second half. The spirit of the crowd quieted slightly by freshman Markis McDuffie stepping on the baseline. Evansville guard Jaylon Brown’s four points clipped the Shocker’s lead down to five.

That’s when senior forward Anton Grady heard the call.

With 11:15 left in the game, Grady returned to the scorers table and quickly went to work on Evansville forward Egidijus Mockevicius. Grady worked in the low-post finding the right angles to get to the rim. He hit a two-point basket to put the Shockers up seven, and as DJ Balentine matched Grady’s basket, Grady answered yet again.

On the defensive end, Grady pulled down the board and the Shockers marched down the field. Fred VanVleet worked the ball into the hands of Grady as he hit a third-straight basket. The Shockers built the lead up again to nine.

“[Anton] is just doing what we knew he could do,” VanVleet said. “He hasn’t really showed it as much, the injury set him back a bit, but this is what we envisioned with him.”

Grady finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal in 27 minutes of play. It was his best performance in all stat categories since the return from his spinal concussion in November.

“It was a step forward in the right direction,” Grady said. “I felt like there was great rhythm. My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball.”  

The duo of Grady and sophomore Shaq Morris together defeated the size and tenacity of Evansville forward Egidijus Mockevicius. Mockevicius leads the nation in rebounds per game, averaging more than 14. Mockevicius also averages double-digit scoring at a pace of 18.5 points per game.

“Combining for 25 points on 11-17 shooting while gathering 10 rebounds is impressive,” said Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall. “[Anton and Shaq] won that matchup.”

Though the Shockers could not hold off Mockevicius from gathering 16 rebounds with his magnetic hands, the duo successfully contained Evansville’s post-play. Mockevicius was held to nine points on five of ten shooting. 

“You just have to go with him when he goes,” Grady said.

As Grady was rolling in good fortune on offense, the Shockers captured a glimpse of an opportunity to pull away with a double-digit lead. Two missed baskets and a turnover by Wichita State opened the door to let Evansville back with an opportunity.

A two-point jump shot by Jaylon Brown brought the Purple Aces within just two points of the Shockers with six minutes left to play.

Through the next series of drives, as the Wichita State offense produced, as did the Purple Aces. Balentine — the Valley’s second-leading scorer — found his own shot and broke free for a few. As Balentine broke into double-figures, opportunities opened up for teammates Adam Wing and Jaylon Brown to do the same.

The Shockers up just two points with 19 seconds left in play, VanVleet passed up the opportunity for a contested two and looked to teammate Zach Brown to take the shot from the wing. Having only a single shot opportunity on the night, a missed two-point jumper, Brown’s confidence stood weary.

“I just caught it and shot it,” Brown said. “I heard the countdown and I was ready for the moment.”

With a defender edging towards him, Brown quickly raised up and hit the three-point basket.

Brown would miss the front end of a one-and-one shot opportunity, opening a final opportunity for Evansville, but down three points with a chance to tie, Balentine traveled at half-court, and the Shockers escaped with win No. 39 in their home winning-streak.

“This is the first game where we have battled back and forth and back and forth and made the right plays down the stretch to win it,” VanVleet said.

The Shockers hit big shots down the stretch with lone three-point baskets from Evan Wessel, Rashard Kelly, Conner Frankamp and Zach Brown, who each had three points apiece.

Evansville entered the game Wednesday night second in the nation in assists per game (21.1) and third in the nation in shooting percentage (52.4).

The Purple Aces moved the ball decently, tallying 14 total assists, but it didn’t happen without Wichita State getting a hand in the way. The Shockers forced 13 turnovers, as the Purple Aces left with a 13-14 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Despite allowing Evansville to a better shooting percentage than the Shockers — 48 percent to Wichita State’s 44 percent — the Shockers tallied 13 more shot attempts.

“When you get 13 more shots, it’s crucial,” Marshall said.

The Shockers held the Purple Aces nearly 20 points off their 81.5 point per game average. In addition, the trio of Zach Brown, Ron Baker and Markis McDuffie held Evansville standout Balentine to a season-low 14 points.

Turnover margin has been the Shockers’ strong suit; they rank sixth in the country in turnover margin. In Wednesday’s game, the backcourt of Baker and VanVleet combined for 12 assists while surrendering four turnovers.

Back to basics. Taking care of the ball and creating problems for the opponent with a stingy defense. It may not be pretty, but for now the defensive end of the floor is a recipe for Wichita State victories as they advance to a 9-5 record.

Evansville couldn’t close Wichita State’s home winning-streak, falling for the sixth-straight time to the Shockers, but the team picked second in the Valley’s preseason polls won’t swallow this one easy. Evansville will get their shot at revenge when the Shockers travel to take on the Purple Aces on Jan. 31 at the Ford Center.