Key statistics: WSU out-rebounded the Volunteers 36-31 and outscored them 28-24 in the lane.
How the game turned: WSU’s Tekele Cotton blocked a layup by Jeronne Maymon and converted a three-point play seconds later to give WSU a 46-44 lead, part of a six-point run by Cotton that turned a three-point deficit into a 47-44 lead. Cotton ended his personal run with a missed free throw and Darius Carter grabbed the miss and scored fora 49-44 lead. While the Vols got within two points twice, the momentum of the game had changed.
Records: WSU 10-0, UT 6-3
- Tennessee’s big men presented challenges WSU had not faced this season. Carter answered with his best effort of the season. He blocked two shots, in addition to his 14 rebounds and 11 points, and WSU never looked over-matched against two 6-foot-8, 260-pound Volunteers. That, his teammates say, is the Carter they see in practice. “We just want him to be more aggressive,” guard Fred VanVleet said. “Any time he goes toward the basket, something productive happens, whether he gets fouled or gets a rebound. He’s so skilled offensively that sometimes he falls in love with the pretty shots instead of going through people’s face and getting and-ones.” In his past two games, Carter is 7 of 12 from the floor and 9 of 11 from the line with 23 points and 20 rebounds. “We knew they were pretty big guys, so Coach had a lot of emphasis on rebounding in practice,” Carter said. “It’s just a step forward in the transition to DI. I’ve just got to keep progressing and keep playing hard.”
- Carter’s 14 rebounds are the most by a Shockers since Garrett Stutz grabbed 14 at Illinois State in 2012. “I’ve been telling everyone that he’s going to be a really good player,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “The rebounding today was incredible. I’d say that’s a breakout game.”
- Carter played a big role in limiting Maymon and Jarnell Stokes, as did foul trouble. Stokes entered the game averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds in his three previous games. Maymon made 15 of 20 shots in his three previous games. The Shockers rarely gave them open looks and Stokes finished with eight points and four rebounds in 21 minutes. Maymon made 3 of 8 shots for nine points and nine rebounds. “In the first half, (Stokes) had one shot,” Marshall said. “That’s not completely eliminating him, but that’s doing a great job.” As the game wore on, WSU did more fronting and made it difficult for them to get the ball. ”I was just focused on not letting them get the ball, because obviously they were heavier guys than me so it would be harder for me to guard from behind them once they got it,” Carter said. “I had a lot of backside help.” WSU blocked six shots and altered several others around the rim. Ron Baker, in the second half, stole a lob pass. In all, the Shockers took away the strength of Tennessee’s offense.
- Ron Baker and VanVleet lit up the Vols early in the game with outside shooting. Tennessee started to trap VanVleet and extend its defense. VanVleet did a nice job of keeping the offense going while adjusting to the pressure. Both VanVleet and Baker gave up shots the rest of the game to get the ball to other players. Three weeks ago, it appeared WSU needed those two to score big. While the Shockers aren’t as deep as in past seasons, other scorers are emerging.
- With a light week of games, WSU might not move up in the polls. Entering Sunday, No. 11 Kentucky was the only team ranked ahead of WSU to lose in the AP poll.
- Tennessee plays Virginia and North Carolina State at home later this month, games it really needs to win to strengthen its NCAA resume. WSU owns three good victories over BYU, Saint Louis and Tennessee. It doesn’t own a great victory, although winning at Saint Louis may look pretty close later this season. The Shockers should be thinking No. 4 seed or better in the NCAA Tournament and it needs those teams to help.
Next up: at Alabama, 8 p.m. Tuesday (ESPNU)