Shockers weather Golden Hurricane

Shocker fans gasped near the end of Wichita State’s 75-55 route over old Missouri Valley Conference rival Tulsa when Fred VanVleet went to the ground and got up limping.

Fans can now offer a collective sigh of relief. VanVleet is OK. 

He took a knee to his thigh in practice Friday, then with 2:47 left in the game Saturday afternoon, the preseason All-American was fouled hard on a drive to the basket. He went to the ground with Tulsa’s 6-foot-9, 245-pound D’Andre Wright landing on top of his legs.

VanVleet stood up, grimaced and limped to the free throw line. After sinking one of two, he limped to the bench — still grimacing.

“I fell and hit the floor pretty hard,” VanVleet said after the game. “Then obviously, that big kid fell on my leg and didn’t make it feel much better. I’m not sure how much he weighs but it was enough to do some damage, but I’m doing fine. I’ll be fine.”

The ending was the most difficult part of VanVleet’s day. Finishing with 21 points, nine assists and four rebounds in 32 minutes of play, the Rockford, Ill., native was selected as the game’s most valuable player.

VanVleet’s performance received high praise from teammate Ron Baker after the game.

“Anytime we need a basket in those types of games, when the other team’s making a run, with the ball in Fred’s hands, usually something good’s gonna happen,” Baker said. “As you could see tonight.”

Other than VanVleet going down, the only moment of possible panic for fans was when Tulsa (3-3) cut the lead to 10 with about 11 minutes left in the game. 

From then on, it was all Shockers. The team connected on seven of their next nine field goal attempts.

Ron Baker set a career-high, hitting six three-pointers and ending the game with 19 points and four rebounds. Saturday was the second game in a row Baker has hit a three within the first 25 seconds.

“The past couple of weeks I just had a really good rhythm toeing the line and just letting my shot go,” Baker said. “Sometimes as a shooter you try and aim it or slow down or quicken your release, and I think the biggest thing is in your mind — ‘just let it go, let it float up there and make your shot.’”

Tulsa’s James Woodard, who ended with 19 points as well, complimented Baker on his game.

“He’s a key player to their program ’cause he never gets sped up,” Woodard said. “He always plays at his pace and he’s just a very smart basketball player. He works hard defensively and offensively and he’s got an excellent shot.” 

Tekele Cotton was back in the starting lineup and played his first game since the win over Memphis on Nov. 18. While not shooting his best — only going two of seven from the field — he led the team with seven rebounds.

Wichita State moves to 4-0 on the season and plays Utah at 10 p.m. Wednesday in Salt Lake City.