Score: Evansville 71, Wichita State 67
Key stats: The Aces outscored WSU 20-11 at the line after shooting 18 more free throws. Combine that edge with 13 fewer turnovers and Evansville had plenty of possessions to overcome 44.9-percent shooting.
How the game turned: Evansville’s Colt Ryan scored five straight points to break a 56-all tie, leading the Aces on an 8-2 run for a 64-58 lead with 1:48 to play. WSU got to within one and had two shots to tie in the final minute.
Records: WSU 15-2, 4-1 MVC; UE 11-6, 4-1
- Here is a stat I overlooked while the Shockers won six games without Carl Hall: Hall is 37 of 52 from the foul line. After missing seven games, Hall has made more free throws than any other Shocker except Cleanthony Early. The Shockers don’t get to the line often, without Hall’s in-the-lane shots, and it didn’t hurt them much until Sunday. Even without Hall, WSU shot more free throws than its opponents (71-52) in four previous MVC games, despite a relatively even foul total (65-64). WSU hasn’t spent much time in the bonus in MVC games, with Drake, Bradley and Evansville all getting called for 15 or fewer fouls. All of those are road games, which often plays a role. With Hall’s return now measured in days, instead of weeks, WSU fans can look forward to his return helping the Shockers spend more time at the line. Hall gets to the line 5.2 times a game, a better rate than Early (4.1). Early shot six on Sunday, despite playing only 24 minutes before fouling out.
- Naturally, the foul disparity bothers WSU coach Gregg Marshall. It is hard to win when your team doesn’t get to the bonus, or double bonus, and WSU shot 13, 10 and 11 free throws in its three road games. “We never get to the bonus, I don’t care who we’re playing,” he said. “We just don’t get to the bonus. We’ve got to a better job every once in awhile getting the whistle blown every once in awhile in our favor.”
- When will Hall return? He called this week “up in the air.” He wants to play. Nobody wants him to risk another injury to the healing right thumb. My sense is this group is about wrung out from the effort playing without Hall and the Shockers really need him back. When Tekele Cotton fouled out Sunday, I watched Marshall look at his bench options and not really like what he saw for the first time in a long time. While the Shockers are performing admirably during these injuries, it’s not going to get easier covering up issues against good teams, especially when foul trouble is added to the equation.
- 7 (3OT), 5, 2, 3, 3, 1. Those are WSU’s margins of defeat in MVC road games the past three-plus seasons. Winning on the road is the hardest thing to do in this sport and the Shockers do an excellent job at giving themselves a chance every time.
- WSU’s turnovers and the pressure by Evansville’s guards kept WSU from exploiting its size. The Shockers couldn’t consistently get the ball into the post, a problem amplified by Early’s foul trouble. The Shockers can’t afford for him to play less than 30 minutes in their current condition. Ehimen Orukpe made some nice shots in the post, but the Aces didn’t double him.
- Malcolm Armstead is doing a fine job adding to WSU’s offense in Hall’s absence. He scored a season-high 21 points Sunday, raising his average in MVC games to 13.2 points. He is 10 of 18 from three-point range and 23 of 44 from the field. Turnovers were a problem (five) on Sunday and I would think Hall’s return will help that area. WSU doesn’t get many easy baskets without Hall as an option and it appears the guards sometimes feel forced to create in tough situations.
- Jake White grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds Sunday and scored eight points to tie a season high. He scored all of those around the basket, which might be a good way to revive his missing three-point stroke.
- The Shockers made Colt Ryan take 19 shots to score 24 points and held him to four free throws. Not a bad day’s work against Ryan. His passing gave the Aces a real lift. He had eight assists, many to big men who rolled the basket free when WSU’s center jabbed at Ryan. He is as tough a cover as there is in the MVC for his quick release, ability to draw fouls and his constant motion.
- The Aces have taken advantage of their schedule and are in good shape to challenge for a top-3 spot in the MVC. They are 3-0 at home, with a win over WSU, and a road win at Northern Iowa. Their lone loss is at Creighton. With Ryan and experienced guards, the Aces should be in every game. Freshman center Egidijus Mockevicius gives the Aces size it lacked last season. They play as hard as any team in the MVC and that shouldn’t change. They also appear to be deeper than in past seasons.
Next up: Illinois State, 7 p.m.