Key statistics: WSU held the Panthers to 2-of-11 shooting from three-point range in the second half and 33.9 percent from the field for the game. The Shockers committed six turnovers for the second straight game and outscored UNI 18-5 on points off turnovers.
How the game turned: Tekele Cotton made back-to-back jumpers from the foul line to give WSU a 49-39 lead with 10:29 to play. After UNI cut the lead to seven points, free throws by Darius Carter started an 8-2 run for the Shockers.
- The double-teams are coming for Wichita State’s big men. On Sunday, the Panthers sent an extra defender at a post player at almost every opportunity and WSU coach Gregg Marshall says they are excellent with that tactic and use it to stop scorers and create turnovers. “I thought our post players did a very good job of not turning it over,” he said. “(UNI) does a great job with it. They come down double and everybody else denies and people just panic. Our guys didn’t do that.” The next step for the Shocker big men is make the defense pay by finding the open man quickly before the defense can adjust. It took Garrett Stutz and J.T. Durley years to get good at doing that. For a player such as Darius Carter, it was the first time this season to see such consistent, aggressive doubles. “It was in Darius’ head,” Marshall said. “Today he got a little steady does of it, especially when he was on the left block.”
- WSU’s Fred VanVleet flexed, briefly, mostly for the benefit of his teammates on the bench, after completing a three-point play late in the game. While that might seem out of character for VanVleet, who is generally not demonstrative, he said it wasn’t a big stretch. “It’s kind of a thing we’ve got going on with the guys on the team,” he said. “I know they’re pumped up for me and like to see me do well. You’ve got to love it and have fun with this game or it will eat you alive. I talk a little bit of trash here or there, but I’m not the most flagrant, outspoken, demonstrative guy out there.”
- Getting more shots than your opponent is a good step toward making more shots than your opponent. The Shockers excel at that because they rarely turn the ball over (9.3 a game). In 15 games, WSU has taken more shots than its opponents in 10 games. Shocker guards Fred VanVleet (4.3) and Ron Baker (2.5) lead the MVC in assist-to-turnover ratio. “VanVleet and Baker, they’ve got a really good feel for playing,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “They don’t make mistakes. They don’t force something that may not be there. And, obviously, they’ve got a great understanding of what Gregg wants them to do. When you’re a really good player, and you’ve got a good understanding of how things are supposed to be done, you’ve got a really good feel for how to play, that’s a great combination. And they’ve got two guys that way.”
- Jacobson has one guy with a lot of that in guard Deon Mitchell, who scored 16 points and didn’t get much help. He is quicker and in better shape than he was earlier in his career and it shows. The Shockers struggled to keep him out of the lane, especially in the first half. At UNI, Mitchell will likely get more help from teammates comfortable shooting in the McLeod Center in front of home fans. Sophomore Wes Washpun is a jet with a lot of potential. His five turnovers showed he wasn’t ready to face WSU’s defense on the road. I would guess some of those 1 for 8s and 2 for 9s from the Panthers will turn into 5 for 8s and 4 for 9s in Cedar Falls.
- While UNI stuck close to WSU on the boards (43-40), Jacobson wasn’t pleased with his rebounding. “They go every time, offensively and defensively,” UNI forward Marvin Singleton said. “We’ve got to continue to box out every possession, because they’ll never stop.”
- WSU’s Cleanthony Early scored 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting, making a lot of mid-range shots. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Panthers wanted to bait Early into taking some of those long twos, preferring him to shoot from there instead of in the lane. Jacobson didn’t like the end result. “We gave Cleanthony too much space,” Jacobson said. “Our plan wasn’t to give him that kind of space over the course of the game. That’s something we’ll have to take a hard look at.”
Next up: vs. Illinois State, 7 p.m. Wednesday (Cox 22)