Indiana State head coach Greg Lansing entered Charles Koch Arena on Sunday with a plan set to focus on keeping the ball out of the hands of Preseason All-American Ron Baker.
Only one thing was missing from Lansing’s scouting report: another Preseason All-American, senior Fred VanVleet.
VanVleet scored a career-high 29 points Sunday, including 18 in the first half to push the Shockers to a 82-62 victory over Indiana State.
Indiana State switched their focus to VanVleet after the Rockford, Illinois, native cut to the basket with a driving layup in the second half. Lansing ordered his Sycamores to pressure VanVleet with a double-team pressure.
And as pressure built on the senior guard, VanVleet tallied five assists. In the first five minutes of the second half, five Shockers each recorded a field goal.
“[VanVleet] is the best pure point guard in the country, there’s no question,” Lansing said. ”I enjoy watching [VanVleet and Baker] play; they play the right way.”
VanVleet hit three of four three-point attempts, and was perfect from the free-throw stripe on all eight attempts in route to his career night. VanVleet captured three steals on defense, and on offense he handled the ball with sophistication, tallying no turnovers.
“I just try to have the same level of aggressiveness all the time,” VanVleet said. “We kept pushing it, I just tried to pick my spots and get to the rim. I’m always in attack mode.”
At the helm of a healthy VanVleet, the Shockers are 11-2 this season. In December, VanVleet lead the Shockers to a 5-1 record, averaging a team-high in points, assists and steals.
The injuries that delayed his senior campaign are faint memory in his and Gregg Marshall’s eyes.
“He was weaving and finishing,” Marshall said. “He looked like the old Fred.”
In route to recording their seventh-straight victory, the Shockers extended their home winning-streak to 40 games at Charles Koch Arena. Their record stands behind Arizona (48) as the longest active home winning-streak in the nation.
Seniors Evan Wessel, Baker and VanVleet have taken the floor in almost each one of the Shocker’s 40 consecutive home victories. With the last home loss nearly three years ago, the seniors are closing in on a feeling unmatched by any team in the country.
“I feel confident when I play here,” Baker said of Koch Arena. “When we’re pushing away with the lead or we’re chomping at the bit, [the fans] are behind us, and sometimes I feel I get too comfortable when I play here. The crowd gets to cheering for you, you get relaxed and think nothing can go wrong.”
The Shockers now own a one-game lead on the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference as they rise to 6-0 in conference play. Despite having five of the Shockers’ six conference wins come by a margin of 15-plus points and a lengthy home winning-streak, Marshall said he doesn’t take any victories for granted.
“I pictured this a one or two-possession game down the stretch,” he said. “It was a nip-and-tuck game. We exerted ourselves in the second half and pushed the lead to nine, then over 10 and ultimately 20. It’s nothing we thought would happen.”
The Sycamores came to Koch Arena on Sunday as one of the Valley’s most premier defenses, holding opponents to a league-low 31 percent from the three-point line and 41 percent from the field.
But the backcourt of VanVleet and Baker posted a premier shooting performance, combining for 62 percent from the field and 57 percent from the three. In addition, the duo was 15 for 15 from the free-throw line.
The team combined to shoot 40 percent from the field and 27 percent from three-point range, percentages that Marshall said he believes they can still improve on. The hot shooting days will come and go, but Marshall will continue to engineer victories by nitty-gritty defense.
Wichita State forced the Sycamores to 16 turnovers. Indiana State’s Brenton Scott recorded four first-half three-point baskets and was held scoreless from beyond the perimeter in the second half. In the second half, the Sycamores shot 15 percent at three-point range and 27 percent from the field.
“[We’re] just trying to do our best effort on the defensive end and not force it offensively,” Marshall said.
The Shockers stayed on top of the Sycamores on Sunday, allowing only four points off turnovers and zero fast break points.
Standing atop the Valley, the Shockers next get Northern Iowa. The Panthers have a two wins in the Valley out of six games. Despite a losing conference record, the Panthers are a force to be reckoned with; they toppled ranked opponents in former No. 1 North Carolina and former No. 5 Iowa State earlier this season.
Wichita State plays the Panthers of Northern Iowa at 7 p.m Wednesday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.