Score: UNI 57, WSU 52
Key stats: The Panthers scored 22 points off 13 WSU turnovers. In the second half, they made 5 of 12 three-pointers in the second half.
How the game turned: UNI’s Marc Sonnen made a three-pointer to cut WSU’s lead to 34-32 with 12:25 to play, starting a 17-2 run that put the Panthers up 46-36 with 7:29 to play. The Shockers cut the lead to 52-50 and 54-52 in the final two minutes, but couldn’t tie or take the lead.
Records: WSU 19-4, 8-3 MVC; UNI 12-11, 5-6
- WSU coach Gregg Marshall didn’t say much after Saturday’s loss at Northern Iowa. He kept his answers short, which in my experience means he has reached a point where either a) in the 15 minutes after a game he isn’t sure how to fix what is wrong, or b) fixing what is wrong is so obvious he doesn’t think it requires explanation and that explanation might require saying “Player X isn’t a good shooter” and that’s not something he wants to say publicly. In this case, it might be both. WSU’s offense isn’t great this season, but it’s good enough to win and probably more efficient when compared nationally than we give it credit for. For example, even after two bad offensive games the Shockers are tied for No. 52 nationally in two-point shooting percentage and tied for No. 65 nationally in points per possession at 1.04. (Points per possession is an advanced stats that attempts to measure offensive efficiency by removing tempo from the equation). For comparison’s sake, Creighton, Indiana and Michigan lead the nation at 1.18 points per possession. The middle point of Division I basketball is roughly around .98. So while the Shockers aren’t a scoring machine, they are better than most nationally. The mystery – or maybe it’s not a mystery – the past two games is their inability to make two-point shots. WSU tries to score in the two most efficient ways possible – threes and at the rim. For the season, it is making 51 percent of its twos, which ranks even with Georgetown and Oregon and slightly ahead of teams such as Arizona, Louisville, UNLV, Duke and Baylor. So making 51 percent of two is a winning number, even with below-average three-point accuracy (WSU ranks No. 221 at 32.6 percent). The past two games, however, the Shockers are missing shots inside the arc. After shooting 52.3 percent on twos in their first 21 games, they are 23 of 68 in the past two, 33.8 percent. Their three-point accuracy – 32.1 percent in the loss to Indiana State and 33.3 percent at UNI – is about what they shoot for the season.
- Indiana State and Northern Iowa are two of the top four defensive teams in the MVC (according to opponents shooting percentage) and Indiana State, a good shot-blocking team, ranks in the top 70 nationally at holding opponents down from two-point range. The Shockers struggled against two accomplished defensive teams. WSU relies on putbacks and transition baskets for its two-point effectiveness. Against Indiana State, WSU totaled 14 second-chance points and two on fastbreaks. Against UNI, it totaled four on second chances and two on fastbreaks. Indiana State and Northern Iowa didn’t let WSU score on putbacks or run. Those two teams also blocked shots – three by the Sycamores and a season-high seven by the Panthers. WSU’s offensive problems boil down to missed shots inside the arc, shots it made most of the season. In the Indiana State game, the Shockers also missed chances to get the ball to post players. The guards shot from the outside more judiciously against UNI and Carl Hall got 13 shots and Cleanthony Early 10, even while limited by fouls.
- Those offensive problems then put enormous pressure on the defense. I’m sure WSU coaches mentioned not leaving UNI guard Marc Sonnen, a fabulous three-point shooter. For the most part, WSU did a solid job on Sonnen, who scored nine points on 3-of-9 shooting. But he got wide open twice during the decisive second-half run. First, Tekele Cotton left him to try to block a shot. After an offensive rebound by Chip Rank (who grabbed two after going six straight game without an offensive rebound earlier in MVC play), Sonnen settled in the corner for an open three that cut WSU’s lead to 34-32. About a minute later, Malcolm Armstead helped on the post (a situation in which he can often create turnovers) and left Sonnen open in the same corner. That three gave UNI the lead for good, 37-36 with 10:47 to play.
- The Shockers are now in a tough spot as far as the MVC race. They trail Creighton by a game and still must travel to Indiana State, Illinois State and Creighton. The Sycamores, however, did them a favor by losing at Drake to stay a game behind the Shockers in third. The immediate goal is to get well, stay in second, keep the pressure on Creighton and hope the Bluejays stumble. WSU’s NCAA resume remains strong, although its seed will slip in the projections. That ground – back into the range of a No. 4 or No. 5 seed – will be difficult to make up without a long win streak. Games against SIU, Missouri State and Drake offer a chance to regroup before a tough closing stretch.
- The Panthers might be a team to watch in the second half. Before losing two close games last week, they had won three of four. They are experienced. Their defense is locking in – six of the past seven opponents failed to reach 60 points.
- A tip of the cap to bbstate.com, which is a good source for statistics and comparisons.
Next up: at Southern Illinois, 7 p.m. Tuesday (Cox 22)