Score: SIU 64, WSU 62
Key stats: The Salukis scored 16 points off 14 WSU turnovers. After shooting 60 percent in the first half, WSU slumped to 37 percent in the second, starting the half by going scoreless until the 14:50 mark.
How the game turned: The Shockers led 33-17 with 5:33 to play in the first half. A 14-0 run by SIU cut the lead to 33-31 and it trailed 36-35 at halftime. SIU made 7 of 8 shots in the span.
Records: WSU 19-5, 8-4 MVC; SIU 9-14, 2-10
- If you doubted the Shockers to any degree at the start of the season, chemistry and leadership had to be one of the reasons. The Shockers lost five seniors from the 2012 team (four from the previous season), experience tough to replace. In their place, WSU turned to a collection of freshmen, sophomores and transfers. Those players haven’t been through the ups and downs like Toure Murry, Garrett Stutz etc. Senior Demetric Williams is the lone Shocker who has been around for four seasons. His definition of disappointment is going to the NIT. The rest of the team knows only good times, lots of them. So we’ll see how they respond to bad times, when they lack the experience of struggling and succeeding, failing and practicing and practicing some more and finally figuring it out. “We’ve got to find ourselves, really dig deep and see how tough we are,” junior Nick Wiggins said. “I feel like we’re together, I honestly do. We’ve been together since the start.” WSU hasn’t lost three in a row since 2009. “We’ve got to get better and focus on what we need to get better,” sophomore Tekele Cotton said. “At this point, that’s everything.”
- The loss damages WSU’s RPI and NCAA resume. Its RPI dropped to No. 38 with a loss to a sub-200 team, its first bad loss this season and its first since a 2011 loss to SIU at home. It’s not fatal, however, as long as the Shockers get it turned around. They are burning through their margin of error, but it’s not gone yet. In 2010 and 2011, bad losses damaged an already borderline RPI ranking. WSU is in a stronger position this season and has plenty of time to pump up its NCAA resume. Getting back to the rarefied air of a No. 4 seed seems impossible. Locking down a spot before the MVC Tournament is not. It is hard to find wins on the schedule with WSU in its current state. That can change quickly.
- Out of all the stats from Tuesday, the one that leaps out to me is a season-low one steal by the Shockers. While SIU is a good ball-handling team, WSU can’t let it be so comfortable on offense.
- Long scoring droughts continue to haunt this losing streak. WSU went more than 11 minutes without a field goal, spanning the two halves, by missing nine shots and committing eight turnovers.
- Neither Carl Hall nor Ehimen Orukpe has been as productive as expected since Hall’s return from an injury. Orukpe’s minutes continued to decline (eight on Tuesday) and his points and blocks are on the decline. Hall hasn’t reached double figures in scoring in three of the past four games. He grabbed 10 and 13 rebounds in his first two games back and hasn’t gotten more than six since.
- In WSU’s win over Bradley, Malcolm Armstead played one of his best games of the season. He got his teammates good shots and made good decisions to the tune of eight assists and two turnovers. It is easy to forget Armstead is in his first season playing for WSU after practicing last season. That rust can be hard to shake off. But if Armstead turned a corner against Bradley, he isn’t all the way around. In the past three games, he’s totaled 11 turnovers, too many for low-scoring games against teams that don’t press. His late-game mistakes are noticeable, but cutting down on turnovers throughout is just as important.
- The Shockers had two chances for a positive outcome on the SIU’s winning basket and got neither. Referees declined to call a charge on SIU guard Jalen Pendleton, who hit Williams, and did call Ehimen Orukpe for goaltending with two seconds to play. “You back up, you back up, and they run over you, and you still can’t get a call,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. Pendleton averages 10.7 minutes and 2.8 points. SIU coach Barry Hinson put him in the game for defense and watched him score SIU’s final six points. Pendleton tried to get rid of the ball on the final play and couldn’t. “I wanted to get Desmar (Jackson) the ball, but I saw they were playing terrific defense on him,” he said. “There wasn’t much time left, and as I drove, (Williams) cut me off and fell, and that allowed me to get the shot off. We’ll never know if it would have gone in.”
- On the night Marshall started Wiggins for Cotton to juice up the scoring, Cotton scored 10 points and made 2 of 3 three-pointers. Cotton is 4 of 8 from three in the past three games. For the season, he is 7 of 31.
Next up: vs. Missouri State, 6:30 p.m. Saturday (FSKC)