Wichita State’s six-minute burst late in the game goes in this team’s scrapbook. They ran a proud team _ with a lot of guys who have won a lot of games _ our of their own gym in those five minutes. Northern Iowa isn’t the same team without Lucas O’Rear, to be sure, but his absence doesn’t diminish what the Shockers did from the 10:20 mark to the 4:23 mark.
With 10:20 to play, UNI’s Marc Sonnen completed a three-point play that brought the Panthers within 50-47. The crowd went nuts and it looked as if the Panthers owned all the momentum. If nothing else, this one was going down to the final minutes.
Instead, the Panthers didn’t do anything worth remembering the rest of the game. Nothing. They didn’t make another field goal until 1:54 remained. Graham Hatch made a corner three with 10:09 to play, igniting a 21-1 run.
21-1. After Hatch’s three, point guard Joe Ragland rebounded like a big man for a putback. UNI turnover. WSU layup. On it went. Jake Koch missed a three badly and Gabe Blair beat everybody downcourt for a layup. A steal by Toure Murry led to a Ragland layup for a 66-48 lead. Murry’s three from the top of the key killed the white-out buzz and sent many fans to the exit.
The sweetest moment, however, had to be when UNI guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe drove into the lane and lost the ball out of bounds. Understand, Ahelegbe has killed the Shockers over the year. Not Saturday. Murry kept him under control from the first minute, when he blocked Ahelegbe’s first jumper. He got a lot of help. Ahelegbe won a few battles. Overall, however, Murry won that matchup convincingly. Ahelegbe’s magic didn’t work on the Shockers.
- UNI coach Ben Jacobson said the Shockers did a fine job denying UNI its first choice on offense. The Panthers were willing to be patient. However, the Shockers put a lot of pressure on UNI to be perfect with its one charge at the basket late in the shot clock. UNI didn’t send many people to the offensive glass because of WSU’s break. “They forced us to go to a little bit of a second or third ball screen,” Jacobson said. “They made some good adjustments. It felt like they did a better job initially.”
- UNI only committed eight turnovers. The Shockers made them pay on all eight, scoring on every possession gained by a Panther mistake for 16 points.
- I suspect Joe Ragland has become the point guard. It took longer than coaches expected, but his ability to score and pass in the lane gives WSU a big help. It’s the one thing he does that no other Shocker can match. Ragland scored eight points and handed out eight assists against UNI. Against SIU, he scored nine points on 4-of-4 shooting with two assists and three turnovers. Ragland gives the offense a boost. David Kyles played six minutes against UNI and has time to work out his shooting problems as a reserve.
- Seniors Aaron Ellis and Graham Hatch did what hard-working seniors do. They came up big on the road. Hatch scored 13 points and hit the game’s crucial shot. Ellis made 3 of 4 shots for eight points. His defense erased Jake Koch after he made two threes in the early minutes of the first half. Koch didn’t make another three and finished with nine points.
- Ben Smith bounced back from a bad shooting night against SIU by making 3 of 4 threes. He scored 10 points in 11 minutes.
- UNI’s Interlude Dance is pretty cool. I can’t remember seeing a better student section at an MVC game than last night in the McLeod Center. Here’s the background on UNI’s dance. If the MVC is hip and happening, they will make this happen in St. Louis during the MVC Tournament.
WSU’s performances on the road make the case the Shockers are the Valley’s best team by a significant margin. The Shockers are tied with Missouri State, however, because of three home losses. It’s odd and it puts tremendous pressure on WSU to win on the road. That doesn’t seem to bother this team at all. Winning on the road is the hardest thing to do in college basketball, and the Shockers make it look routine.
WSU’s remaining MVC schedule - at Evansville, Creighton, at Missouri State.
Missouri State’s remaining MVC schedule - Drake, at SIU, WSU