Score: Evansville 59, WSU 56
Key stats: WSU missed 15 of 19 three-pointers. Evansville made 8 of 14.
How the game turned: WSU scored three points in the final 8:04 of the game, none in the final 3:27.
Records: WSU 24-6, 12-5 MVC; UE 17-13, 9-8
- It’s WSU coach Gregg Marshall’s job to play mind doctor with his team, but if he wants my advice, you deem this game irrelevant and move on quickly. WSU is what it is at this point and dwelling on that loss won’t change it. The Shockers need to believe they are the team that won five in a row, shooting accurately from long range in all five, more than they need to think about shooting miserably against Evansville. Effort wasn’t the problem on Wednesday, as it was during parts of the three-game losing streak. Shooting and execution, two connected issues, killed the Shockers. They know how to fix that, regardless of what happened against the Aces. The Shockers said they can regroup quickly, exactly what you would expect them to say. “By (Thursday), we’ve got to look forward to Saturday,” WSU senior Demetric Williams said. “Clear your head. It’s an upset feeling on senior night to lose. Be ready tomorrow to get better.” The Shockers need to apply the lessons from the earlier slump and not let one loss turn into more. Another three-game losing streak, while unlikely, would make for a long, nervous wait on Selection Sunday. “I don’t think we lost our swagger,” WSU junior Cleanthony Early said. “I think we’ve got enough confidence.”
- WSU wasn’t the only team that wasted a great opportunity. The Shockers got some good news when third-place Northern Iowa lost at last-place Southern Illinois. That’s big for WSU because it means it can finish no worse than second, locking up at least the No. 2 seed in the MVC Tournament. The difference between No. 1 and No. 2 is important, yet not nearly as important as the difference between No. 2 and No. 3. The Panthers had a chance to tie WSU for second and they had the tiebreaker on non-conference strength of schedule. WSU will get the advantage of playing a Thursday team on Friday, regardless of what happens at Creighton. UNI will finish either third or fourth. I’ll hold off on how good this development is for WSU until the seeds play out. Illinois State may end up the No. 7 seed, and that’s a difficult potential matchup for WSU on Friday. Drake could end up the No. 6 seed.
- When I look at the lists of last four in and last four out teams, I have a hard time getting worried about WSU’s NCAA resume. A win Saturday helps immensely. Lacking that, a win in the MVC Tournament is extremely helpful. I’m not sure it’s necessary, although the Shockers will increasingly put their chances in the hands of bid thieves in other conference tournaments. It’s possible WSU will look back on this game – much like the 2005 loss to Northern Iowa – as one that ruins its NCAA chances. I’m not ready to go there yet.
- On WSU’s possession with 20 seconds to play, Malcolm Armstead had the option to go for two or take a three. Marshall credited Evansville’s defense with taking both options away. “It was his read on the flare screen, and, again, they defended it very well,” Marshall said. “Troy Taylor is a tough, tough competitor. (Armstead) had a hard time getting free.”
- As usual, the end-game plays will get a lot of attention. WSU equally hurt itself with a poor-shooting first half and a series of mistakes midway through the second half. After tying the game 42-all, the Shockers committed three straight turnovers, helping the Aces go up 47-42. “We just threw the ball away, or could not get the ball down through the net,” Marshall said. “That was a pivotal point.”
- MVC Player of the Year effort by Colt Ryan, who came as close to single-handedly beating a good team as one man can. He scored 29 of Evansville’s 59 points and played 39 minutes, handing out five assists. So he accounted, in some way, for at least 39 of his team’s points. He made some open shots. He also made some against good defense, which is what big-time players do. Freshman D.J. Balentine also played well, especially in the first half.