Shockers get payback, win MVC crown

Junior Tom “Bush” Wamukota lets out a scream during the WSU vs. University of Northern Iowa game Saturday. The Shockers won 74-60.

Wichita State’s men’s basketball team experienced their worst defeat in almost two years in January, a 70-54 loss to Northern Iowa.

“It’s been on our mind a lot,” Fred VanVleet said. “We got our [butts] kicked up there. We just wanted another shot at them.”

Yesterday’s shot lived up to expectations as the Shockers got payback on the Panthers with a 74-60 win and their second-straight Missouri Valley Conference championship.

“Beating the 10th ranked team in the country, being senior day,” head coach Gregg Marshall said. “It being championship on the line. It being a sellout again and an electric crowd. It being GameDay here. It being 32 in a row at home. For all of those reasons, when you add it up — and I’ve been coaching for 17 years — it was the biggest home regular season contest that I’ve ever taken part in. I just appreciate so much that these guys gave us a win and now we get to celebrate.”

Darius Carter and Shaq Morris were in foul trouble for much of the first half, and the Shockers had to play seldomly used “Bush” Wamukota. His length bothered MVC Player of the Year candidate Seth Tuttle, who scored 29 against WSU in their first meeting this year. Reserve Zach Brown also contributed to the Shockers’ push.

“We wouldn’t have won the game without those two guys,” VanVleet said. “That’s for sure.”

When UNI’s Jeremy Morgan hit a three with 4:12 left in the first half to cut the lead to four, both teams were at a stalemate for a little more than two minutes. Then, at the 1:58 mark with the shot clock winding down, VanVleet found Tekele Cotton for a deep three and he hit it.

Cotton got a steal and returned the favor by giving it to VanVleet. VanVleet pulled back, slowed it down, then stepped into a three- point shot of his own, drilling it.

And just like that, WSU pushed it to a 10-point lead and after two free throws from VanVleet, the Shockers took a 38-26 lead heading into halftime.

At one point in the second half, the Shockers lead was as much as 18 points. Again though, UNI made a run.

The 18-point lead dissipated as UNI’s Wes Washpun hit a jumper followed by the Panthers reeling off four three-pointers in less than three minutes.

The lead was cut to four and Marshall called a timeout.

“It’s never really good when you call timeouts when the other team makes a run,” Marshall said. “That’s why I don’t usually do them. I don’t usually call timeouts, but I called one there. I just didn’t want them to make another basket then it becomes a one-possession game and they were playing so well.

“They were doing their inside-out deal for Seth [Tuttle] and he was kicking it out for open threes. We just had to tighten up who we were gonna double off of and who we were not gonna double off of, and we finally got a couple stops and made the different guys take the threes on the kick-outs.”

The adjustments worked. After the teams went back and forth and the WSU’s lead was still at four with 7:30 left to play, Evan Wessel stepped in and hit back-to-back three-pointers.

Those two three-pointers by Wessel put a stamp on the game that the Panthers couldn’t come back from, but the fireworks hadn’t come.

With a 10 point lead and 1:19 to go in the game, senior Darius Carter pulled down a rebound, got it to VanVleet, who heaved it full court to Cotton.

“I had a feeling he was going to do something special when I put it in the air,” VanVleet said. “I honestly thought I was going to turn it over, but I wanted to get it to him. I saw an opening and the rest is you now, that’s what he does.”

The rest was a windmill tomahawk dunk to ignite the crowd one last time before the final 1:08 ticked away.

“My mom is here and she told me I should do it,” Cotton said. “He threw the pass and I did it.”

Carter said he almost wanted to quit playing just to watch the replay.

The seniors capped off the 14-point win with a rebound and two free throws from Carter and a steal by Cotton. Both checked out of a game in Charles Koch Arena for the last time.

“It was an honor to coach these guys,” Marshall said. “It was an honor to be in this moment. And how could you not be very appreciative of the fact that the people came out like they did. These guys give unbelievable effort and passion and it mirrors the crowd today.”

Wichita State will play the winner of Missouri State and Southern Illinois at 12:05 p.m. Friday in St. Louis, Mo.