Score: WSU 59, Southern Miss 51
Key statistics: The Shockers outscored the Golden Eagles 16-4 in the paint and 9-1 on second-chance points in the second half, helping them shoot 50 percent from the field. WSU outscored Southern Miss 17-8 at the foul line.
How the game turned: Trailing 47-39 with 8:25 to play, the Shockers took a 49-48 lead by forcing turnovers and pounding the offensive glass. Nick Wiggins’ tip dunk gave WSU a 53-51 lead and the Shockers held the Eagle scoreless over the final 3:22.
- All the adjustments in the world don’t matter if shots don’t fall. WSU made a few shots in the second half, which made all the difference. Still, their adjustments, slight as coach Gregg Marshall said they were, helped. The Shockers beat the press by throwing it over the top a few times. It beat the zone by getting the ball inside and then sometimes skipping the ball over the defense to an open shooter. “They were pressing us and we were getting it out fast,” WSU guard Malcolm Armstead said. “Just playing opportunity basketball. We just made the plays.” Marshall called his offensive change in the second half an “old-school diamond overload.” It looked as if WSU put four players on one side and was able to draw the defense in by passing it to Cleanthony Early, on the baseline. If he didn’t get a shot, he would throw over the zone across court.
- KWCH’s Bruce Haertl, WSU media relations director Larry Rankin, Bob Lutz and I decided on Maurice Evans as the answer to the question: Nick Wiggins is the most athletic Shocker since? WSU has had its share of good athletes in recent seasons – Jamar Howard, P.J. Couisnard, David Kyles. None of them could execute a dunk like the one Wiggins jammed in the second half. He presents a real challenge for Marshall. He can score in bursts, which is what the Shockers lack. In his past four games – including an 0-fer at Tennessee – he is 8 of 13 from three-point range. The rest of team is 20 of 70 (28.5 percent). Marshall also sees a player who doesn’t fight through screens as fiercely as his other guards and doesn’t pursue loose balls with a disregard for personal safety. If and when Wiggins adds those elements to his game, his value increases. Eight rebounds in Saturday’s game is a good sign. More time in the weight room will help. Tekele Cotton and Demetric Williams are physically prepared and confident enough to bang. Wiggins might never play with their abandon, but he can improve. Marshall wisely subbed Wiggins and Cotton for offense/defense in the final eight minutes.
- Wiggins’ description of the dunk after Williams’ three bounced up: “He missed off to the left corner of the backboard and Cleanthon (Early) was boxed out. I didn’t have anybody checking me out on the weakside, so I came up and used my athleticism.” Williams’ take: “I thought I was going to make the shot, then I saw it come off. I see somebody lanky and tall grab the ball and dunk it back in. I was very excited. That was a big key in this game.”
- Williams hit two shot-clock beaters in the second half. His three, with one second to go, seemed particularly important. It started one of WSU’s early runs that kept the game in reach, cutting the lead to 36-32. Williams said the inbound play was intended to get a Shocker a lob for a dunk. “They forgot about me in the corner and Fred (VanVleet) found me and I knew I had to get it up,” he said. Williams only made two threes (missing seven), but both started rallies. His first got the crowd involved for the first time in the second half by starting a 5-0 run that cut the deficit from 32-20 to 32-25.
- WSU, with its injuries, will need to win by holding opponents in the 50s and low 60s. A healthy Ehimen Orukpe is critical to that plan. After a sprained ankle slowed him for several games, he looked closer to 100 percent. He grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots in 25 minutes, his best outing since playing very well against Iowa on Nov. 21, the game in which he sprained the ankle. He missed three games before playing seven and 16 minutes in the previous two.
- WSU’s three-season run against Conference USA opponents downtown ends next year. The Shockers will play Tennessee on Dec. 14 at Intrust Bank Arena, part of the two-game series that started earlier this month in Knoxville. The game will not be organized by a promoter. Russ Potts Productions secured the opponent and handled tickets for the past two games at Intrust Bank Arena. WSU athletic director Eric Sexton said no decision has been made on how tickets for the Tennessee game will be handled. The game against Tulsa in 2010 was part of the season-ticket package. The games in 2011 (UAB) and 2012 were not. Sexton also said the matchup against Tennessee will serve as WSU’s lone game at the arena next season.
- Saturday’s attendance of 9,619 is the smallest attendance of WSU’s three games downtown. WSU gets a guarantee check for $85,000 from the promoter, plus $21,500 for selling 9,000 or more tickets.
- WSU will keep playing games at IBA because 1) Marshall likes it, 2) It helps recruiting to be able to show players a nice arena that serves as WSU’s second home, 3) Tennessee likely won’t come to Wichita to play in Koch Arena and 4) In the past two seasons, WSU got Conference USA opponents coming off NCAA Tournament appearances in Wichita without needing to return the game. Really, all you need to know is that Marshall loves playing at IBA. As long as he wants to play there, WSU will. Next season’s game – better opponent, better date – will be a tough ticket.
- WSU is 11-1 for the fourth time since 1945. The 1953-54 team got to 16-1 before losing a second game. The 2004-05 and 2009-10 teams made it to 11-1.
- WSU’s RPI surged to No. 14 (warrennolan.com) after Saturday’s win over No. 73 Southern Miss. As of today, WSU has six more games against top-100 teams (Creighton, Illinois State, Indiana State). Indiana State did the MVC a big favor with its win over Ole Miss in Hawaii. The Sycamores jumped into the top 100 at No. 78. They play San Diego State in Hawaii on Sunday.
Next up: vs. Northern Iowa, 5 p.m. Dec. 30