Score: WSU 68, ISU 67
Key stats: WSU shot 53.6 percent from the field and made 11 of 12 free throws in the second half.
How the game turned: The Shockers won with an 8-0 run in the final 40 seconds, started by Cleanthony Early’s foul shots after a flagrant foul on Illinois State’s Jackie Carmichael. Demetric Williams made a corner three with 28 seconds to play and Early finished it off with a three from the wing with 5.2 seconds to play.
- WSU point guard Malcolm Armstead knows how the spotlight falls on his position in close games. After late-game troubles in losses at Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois, the Shockers got it right on Sunday. They scored 17 points in the final 3:45, making 4 of 6 shots and all six free throws without committing a turnover. Most important, they got Williams and Early good looks in the final 40 seconds. “We needed to win a game like this down the stretch, gut it out,” Armstead said. “Last couple games when I was in that situation, at UNI I kicked it off my leg, we didn’t get a good shot. That’s my job to execute and get us a good shot. Other late-game situations, I kind of got sped up. I wasn’t trying to force anything, just take what the defense gave me.”
- MVC associate commissioner Jack Watkins said an investigation into the post-game brouhaha between coaches is ongoing and declined to comment further. Two reporters saw most or all of it and they described it as coaches yelling at each other and security guards hustling to intervene. In their words, it wasn’t a huge scene and nothing close to punches or physical contact happened. I didn’t see anything. I never seen security guards escorting WSU players and coaches around 30 minutes after the game like I did last night. Whatever happened caused concern.
- I won’t say I’m in favor of coaches yelling at each other. However, sometimes MVC coaches are a little too vanilla. If you remember, Versace, Richardson, Smithson, Donewald and others – well those personalities are fun for fans and the media. Sure, we want coaches to behave themselves and set a good example. Don’t we also want some drama to show us what’s at stake in these competitions?
- I’m still not sure why Carmichael received a flagrant foul for a kick deemed intentional, yet wasn’t ejected. I’m not sure he deserved to be ejected, but I’d like to know the specifics of the rule. Is there a gray area that allows an official to assess the Flagrant 1, deem it intentional, while not calling it a Flagrant 2 with an ejection? I will try to get that cleared up with the MVC office. Watkin was at the scorer’s table and his explanation of the review and foul makes sense: “Officials are allowed to use the monitor to determine if it is excessive or intentional, just like a fight” he said. “They felt there was an intentional action that took place.”
- The first 38 minutes always get lost in cases like this. WSU’s defense deserves great credit for keeping the game close while its offense struggled in the first half. WSU held Carmichael to 12 points on 12 shots and Tyler Brown to 17 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
- Armstead, almost on his own, kept the Shockers afloat in the second half. He scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half, making 5 of 9 shots. His driving ability loosened up a defense that dominated the first half. “Macolm’s a fifth-year guy, a steadying force,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “He wasn’t fazed by the atmosphere and the magnitude of the moment of the game. He was really driving well, which he didn’t do in the first half.” Armstead’s MVC numbers continue to climb: 41.1 percent from three-point range in 15 games, 11.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists (2.8 turnovers) and a team-leading 25 steals.
- WSU’s RPI rank improved to No. 33, keeping it solidly in NCAA Tournament at-large scenarios. I figured WSU had to get at least one of its final three road games for those hopes. It did that. Now it can focus on the MVC race. The final two road games – at Indiana State on Tuesday and at Creighton on March 2 – are toughies. Does winning Sunday give the Shockers confidence that propels them, or just add to the pressure?
Next up: at Indiana State, 6 p.m. Tuesday. (ESPN3 only)