Score: WSU 75, Drake 63
Key statistics: The Shockers made 12 of 25 threes, 6 of 10 in the second half and committed 12 turnovers. Drake committed 19 turnovers, leading to 29 WSU points.
How the game turned: Cleanthony Early made the most of eight second-half minutes, scoring eight points. He started the half with back-to-back threes to give WSU a 40-34 lead and start an 18-5 run. Early made all three of his threes and finished with 11 points.
Records: WSU 13-1, 2-0 MVC; DU 6-7, 0-2
- The lesson from WSU’s 2-0 MVC start is that a lot of teams can make open three-pointers. Northern Iowa entered Sunday’s game shooting 37.1 percent behind the arc. It made 3 of 17 against WSU ( a season-low 17.6 percent). Drake made 41 percent, sixth nationally, before Wednesday. It made 7 of 25 (28 percent). Neither team offers much of an inside threat and WSU’s perimeter defenders sold out to stop the jump shooters, none of whom showed much interest in dribbling toward the basket. “You can’t let them live at the three-point line uncontested,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. Taking away Drake’s shooters is about more than getting hands up. It started with disrupting its offense early in sets when the Bulldogs tried to work off ball screens. Drake guard Micah Mason said the Shockers got more aggressive defending those screens in the second half, with the bigger defender pushing the ball-handler away from the basket. The Shockers also stuck to Mason, who scored 11 first-half points and three in the second. “They are tough on the perimeter,” Mason said. “In the second half, they stepped it up even more, making sure that they didn’t go under any picks like they did in the first half, which turned out as threes for me. They definitely pick you up early and stay tough the whole time.”
- This win seemed to prove something to Marshall about the current makeup of the team. His mood switched from wondering about how his team will play short-handed to wondering how the three injured starters will fit in when (and if) they come back. Winning on the road, at a place where WSU went 1-4 the past five seasons, will do that. Carl Hall will quickly find his way back into the rotation when he returns later this month from a broken thumb. WSU still doesn’t have anybody who can score inside with Hall’s efficiency. Ron Baker and Evan Wessel’s returns are less certain. Baker won’t be back until early February, at best, and stress fractures can be tricky. Wessel’s return from a broken pinky is also uncertain. While he said he wants to try to return this season, the longer he is unable to play, the more likely it becomes that sitting out, having surgery, and applying for a medical hardship becomes the smart option. Getting either Baker or Wessel back for the final weeks of the season would be great to give WSU another option on the wings and another shooter. In their absence, players such as Tekele Cotton and Nick Wiggins are adapting nicely to more playing time. “They will have to fight for their spots when they come back, because we are starting five new guys,” Marshall said.
- Cotton starred with his defense and rebounding last night. His offense is coming around after shooting struggles in non-conference games. Against UNI and Drake, he is 8 of 12 from the field and averaging 11 points. It has to be scary for MVC coaches to consider that Wiggins was WSU’s 11th or 12th man before the injuries hit. He is 13 of 25 from three-point range. Unlike many MVC shooters, he is a threat to drive and dunk. WSU needs a Microwave off the bench and Wiggins can do that. A week ago, it appeared smart teams would zone the Shockers, at least for a some stretches, and make them prove they can hit threes. While that strategy still might work, it’s less sure after Wednesday’s performance.
- Ehimen Orukpe played one of his better all-around games as a Shocker, scoring a career-high 10 points to go with six rebounds, three steals and two blocks. He says he is doing that on an ankle that is 60-percent healthy.
- WSU is 13-1 for the third time since 1945. It is 2-0 in the MVC for the second time in Marshall’s six seasons. Last season’s team started 1-1. Without the injured starters, WSU needs to bank victories against the lower half of the MVC before the schedule gets tougher in mid-January.
- Mason has moved in front of two junior college transfers at point for the Bulldogs and he played well. He reminds me of Evansville’s Jason Holsinger. He should torment a lot of defenses over his four seasons in the MVC. Freshman Joey King also showed played well, with 15 points and six rebounds. Center Seth VanDeest does not look like he is back to his old form, understandable after sitting out last season with shoulder injuries. He took only four shots and I expected him to be a bigger focus of the offense. Drake needs an inside threat to free up its shooters. Forward Jordan Clarke, who is battling injuries, played only 21 minutes and didn’t score.
- Bradley is WSU’s next task and the Braves are taking over as the Valley’s pleasant surprise. They are 2-0 after Wednesday’s 66-60 win at Southern Illinois. Bradley held Drake to 33.9 percent shooting in its MVC opener, so this is an early matchup of two dedicated defensive teams. The Braves are 10-4 after going 7-25 last season.