Shockers fall to Illinois State in second game of Missouri Valley Conference tournament

Senior Tekele Cotton walks off the court after the Shockers were defeated by ISU 65-62 in the semifinal round of the MVC tournament Saturday afternoon.

Sports Editor

ST. LOUIS — The last time the Wichita State men’s basketball team lost in St. Louis, they were down two points with the clock winding down against Kentucky.

Then-sophomore guard Fred VanVleet got the ball in his hands, took a last second three-point attempt and missed.

“[Saturday] kind of reminded me of the Kentucky game last year here in this building, same situation,” head coach Gregg Marshall said after the Illinois State loss. “They kept going to the foul line at the end. We had more baskets, and Fred had the ball at the end down three.”

When VanVleet got the ball in his hands with seven seconds left on Saturday, he drove full court, couldn’t find an open man and took a three from the right wing. He missed, and the Shockers lost to Illinois State 65-62 in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament semifinals.

“If we don’t like to lose, especially not in that fashion, coming down to a one-possession game,” VanVleet said. “It’s just heartbreaking. In that moment, you’re just numb. You don’t feel it until you get back to the lockerroom. If it doesn’t fall, you suck. If it does, you’re a hero…”

Everything was in the Shockers’ favor in the first half, on top 30-22 at halftime. WSU had 20 points in the paint compared to Illinois State’s six. WSU had eight fast break points compared to ISU’s zero. WSU had six points off turnovers and six points off the bench compared to ISU’s two points off turnovers and zero off the bench.

They were able to keep the Redbirds to 32.1 percent shooting from the field and forced seven turnovers. Led by Baker’s 13 first-half points, WSU shot well in the first half at 48.3 percent.

“To be honest, we missed a lot of open looks in the first half,” Baker said. “We felt like we should have been up maybe 12, 16, around that mark.”

The Redbirds took over in the second half and forced WSU into foul problems. Darius Carter spent much of the game on the bench due to fouls. When Carter was in, he was effective — scoring nine points in just 14 minutes of play.

But, the team fouls racked up early, sending ISU to the free throw line 17 times in the second half. ISU converted on 15 of them.

“When you get in the bonus with so much time on the clock, it puts us on our heels naturally,” said VanVleet, who was just named to the Valley Tournament Team. “I think the game was won at the free throw line for them.”

At the 17:52 mark in the game, the tide completely turned.

With the Shockers up 36-27, ISU center Reggie Lynch hit two free throws to pull with seven. Then Daishon Knight hit a three-pointer, followed by two jumpers. In a two-minute stretch, ISU reeled off nine straight points to tie the game. And Lynch topped it off with a dunk to take the lead.

WSU was relentless and wouldn’t allow the Redbirds to separate — only allowing the deficit get to five points. At the 4:14 mark, the Shockers regained the lead, trading punches until the end.

With 39 seconds left and down five again after two free throws from ISU’s MiKyle McIntosh, WSU needed stops and quick points.

VanVleet took the ball down the lane and was fouled by Lynch, fouling Lynch out of the game. VanVleet hit two free throws, and the Shockers were down three with 21 seconds left.

Then came the stop. VanVleet got a steal and a layup, putting WSU down one with 17 seconds to go. WSU tried forcing a turnover in the backcourt. When they couldn’t, VanVleet fouled Knight and sent him to the free throw line where he converted both, putting ISU back up three.

The rest is history. VanVleet missed the final shot off the back of the rim and the Shockers went home the next morning.

VanVleet said he’ll probably think about the loss until the brackets are revealed on March 15.

“For me, it’s a double-edged sword,” VanVleet said. “You can’t just throw it out the window. You’ve got to sit with it and let it motivate you and learn from it. But at the same time, we’ve got a really bright future ahead of us, got things to play for still.”

The time off will serve as rest time for the banged up Shocker team.

One player healing is Baker. Early in the second half, he went up to block a Lynch dunk attempt. The refs called a foul, but Baker hit the ground hard — keeping him there for a few minutes.

“That was a hard fall,” Marshall said. “You could hear it. You could hear bones crashing on the floor.”

Coach Marshall needs to heal, as well.

“I’ve been diagnosed with pneumonia for the last 48 hours, so I’m looking forward to getting some bed time and some rest and knowing that we’re going to the NCAA tournament,” Marshall said. “We’ve got eight days now before we decide where we’re going to go.”

“We’re going to go home and get — hopefully — get healed and feel better.”

Tekele Cotton, VanVleet and Evan Wessel were also banged up. Wessel had been checked for concussions throughout the day Saturday, Marshall said.

“This next eight to 12 days will be good for us,” Baker said. “We’ll get back to Wichita, get home, rest up, get healthy, and obviously, we’ll break down this film and learn from it. Obviously, other teams in the nation are going to see how somebody beat Wichita State.”

The Shockers will know where they’re headed and who they’re playing on Sunday when the NCAA reveals the brackets for the NCAA tournament. Marshall said he isn’t too concerned where the team ends up playing.

“We’re in the NCAA tournament, so that’s what we’re going to dwell on,” Marshall said. “I love the fact that we’re in. I love the fact that we’re going to get a good seed. I don’t care really where we go.”