Key statistics: WSU out-rebounded the Eagles 37-22 and scored 17 second-chance points. It also enjoyed a 12-point edge at the foul line. Those edges held off the Eagles, who shot 56.5 percent in the second half with guard Jeremy Ingram scoring 27, 37 for the game.
How the game turned: A 15-0 run in the first half gave the Shockers enough cushion. Darius Carter scored six points during the run and Ron Baker added five points, a steal and an assist. The Eagles turned the ball over on four straight possessions to help WSU extend its lead from 21-19 to 36-19.
Records: WSU 12-0, NCC 7-3
- WSU’s Cleanthony Early scored 16 points to record his best back-to-back scoring games of the season (he had 26 at Alabama). He also grabbed a season-high 10 rebounds. This production coincides with him getting the ball more often in the post, where he often draws fouls. Early is 15 of 16 from the line in the past two games. He shot four in his previous three games. With Early struggling from the three-point line, coach Gregg Marshall emphasized that it was time for him to work on scoring from the post. “Recently, Coach kind of put his foot down,” WSU guard Fred VanVleet said. “He’s hard to guard down there with his quickness and athleticism. It’s just about keeping the defense honest. When he stands out there at the three a lot, it’s playing into the defense’s hands. You ask any coach, they’d rather have him out there than down low.”
- The worry before the last pre-Christmas game is obvious – are the players already on break. The Shockers played very well in the first half. The combination of Ingram and a more aggressive zone defense kept the game around the 10-point mark through the second half. By the end, the Shockers looked like a team ready for a break and happy to get out of Koch Arena with a win, no matter the style points. “(Coach) was telling us to focus more on the game instead of going home,” Carter said. “We couldn’t come out and be ready to go home. He was telling us that a lot, basically, all week.”
- No other Eagle scored more than seven points. Ingram took 21 shots and no teammate took more than six. Coach LeVelle Moton admitted his team didn’t have much chance to win without better balance. “The beautiful thing about (Ingram) is that no one recruited him,” Moton said. “He had zero scholarship offers coming out of high school. You can tell he plays with that chip on his shoulder.” Ingram, a 74-percent foul shooter, went 0 for 5 in the first half. Moton told him he looked like Shaq out there.
- The rules restricting defensive contact is perfect for Ingram, who shot 12 free throws to raise his season total to 114. What makes Ingram hard to guard? “The rules,” VanVleet said. “He can shoot the ball, so you’ve got to get up on him. All he has to do is put his head down and get the whistle. When you’re shooting 21 shots, you’re getting to shoot with freedom.”
- WSU’s RPI is up to No. 6 (warrennolan) and North Carolina Central (No. 78) is helping. That’s about the only good news for the Shockers, who had a frustrating week of scoreboard watching. Alabama lost 77-74 to Xavier at home and the Tide are a long way from NCAA consideration. Tennessee lost 65-58 to North Carolina State at home. The Volunteers have a lot of work to do to get to the NCAA bubble. BYU remains a good victory, but it lost in overtime to Oregon. BYU ranks second nationally in strength of schedule. Saint Louis has won five in a row and plays Vanderbilt in a week. From an MVC perspective, Notre Dame’s collapse is harmful. The Irish represented a good win for Indiana State a month ago. Now, not so much.
- Marshall delivered an unprovoked attack on my outside shooting ability during his interview session, when he said that I could not make 7 of 13 three-pointers (as Ingram did) unguarded. Unfortunately, he has a fair point based on his one look at my shooting ability. In 2007-08, the TV and radio people, myself and, sometimes, team managers, played 2 on 2 or 3 on 3 after practices on the road. At the end of such practices, Marshall often had his team work on shooting with a competition to see which team could score the most points in a time limit while rotating from basket to basket (in a gym with baskets on the side). At one stop, I think Illinois State, he invited the old guys to take part as a team. Of course, we folded miserably and fell for the trap of taking (and) missing threes instead of shooting layups. We were never again invited to shoot, probably for fear of infecting the Shockers with our miserable performance. Marshall would not forget something like that.
Next up: vs. Davidson, 2 p.m. Sunday at Koch Arena (Cox 22)