Key statistics: The Shockers shot 52.7 percent from the field (59.3 second half), its best shooting game since it made 60 percent of its shots at Southern Illinois. Ten offensive rebounds led to 12 second-chance points.
How the game turned: After Drake cut the lead to 54-44, the Shockers responded with a spectacular burst. Nick Wiggins turned in two three-point plays. Cleanthony Early made a three and came from the top of the key to follow in a missed three with a tip dunk. The 11-0 run gave the Shockers a 65-44 lead with eight minutes to play.
Connors State forward Willie Atwood is a scorer who is considering WSU.
- Wiggins made 1 of 2 threes to raise his season percentage to 24.5 percent (13 of 53). Nobody expected that from Wiggins, who made 31 of 74 (41.9) last season. Wiggins knows that while the season hasn’t been as fruitful as expected, there is no reason he can’t finish strong and give the Shockers another threat. “I know I can take this team to a whole new level,” he said. “I’m a big part of it, to bring this team over the top and make a deep tournament run. I’ve just got to continue to play well, stay in the gym.” Wiggins scored 11 points (making 4 of 7 shots) to go with five rebounds and a season-high two assists. His defense and rebounding are improved over last season and a player that can help in those areas often gets rewarded on offense. Wiggins’ time may still come. Wiggins scored a career-high 18 points at Drake last season when he made 4 of 5 threes. The Knapp Center feels like home to him. “Shoot-around this morning felt good,” he said. “I like this gym. It’s a good environment.”
- Forward Darius Carter also gave the Shockers a boost off the bench with his seven points and five rebounds. Carter made a 16-foot jump shot, something he does in practice and rarely shows in games. He has also shown an increased ability to drive to the basket and score in recent games. “He had a really nice move to drive it and get fouled,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “He’s getting stronger, more comfortable out there.”
- Early has played like a Wooden Award nominee since earning a spot on the 25-man mid-season watch list. In the past two games, he is 15 of 24 from the field and 9 of 13 from three-point range for 42 points with 17 rebounds.
- The Shockers had 14 turnovers, most since 18 at Saint Louis. However, two came in the final 55 seconds. Once again, WSU turned its careful ball-handling into more shots (55-45) and better shots (32-10 scoring in the lane) than its opponent. “That team is extremely tough-minded. Each possession, offensively and defensively they control their destiny,” Drake coach Ray Giacolleti said. “They don’t splinter ever. We were not able to make them splinter.” WSU had 13 turnovers at Illinois State on Wednesday, so this is the most its had in back-to-back games since it had 29 against BYU and Saint Louis.
- The Drake students got on Wiggins with “Your brother’s better” and “You’re adopted” chants. The Shockers seem to enjoy the hazing that goes on in each gym, which is easy to do when you’re winning. Drake’s student section is closer to the court than any in the Valley and it has the potential to be a disruptive force on the rare times it is active. Saturday was one of those times. “Just stay focused,” Wiggins said. “(Marshall) said the everybody that isn’t wearing black and yellow and isn’t on his bench, don’t worry about. We did that.”
- The reviews around Drake are very good for Giacoletti,who is winning friends with his easy-going demeanor and impressing people with his approach to one of the MVC’s toughest projects. A new practice gym (for the men and women) is under construction next the Knapp Center, evidence that Drake is committing more resources to the sport. He has five players signed for next season. While Drake loses three senior starters next season, it will get guard Gary Ricks Jr., who averaged 12.3 points before a broken foot ended his season, back. My guess is Giacoletti didn’t leave a great situation as an assistant at Gonzaga to finish eighth in the MVC. He would not have come to Drake without increased resources and a belief he can win. If he can, the Valley benefits greatly.
- A lot of Shocker fans, probably 300-400 made the trip, including a good contingent from Iowa. Has Des Moines become the new Omaha? With Creighton out, Drake is the second-closest road trip for Shocker fans.
- WSU’s 17-point margin at Drake is its largest since a 75-53 win in 2004-05. The Shockers have won two in a row at the Knapp Center for the first time since it won four straight from 2003-2006.
- Loyola defeated Northern Iowa 93-87 in overtime on Saturday in Chicago. The Ramblers are 3-5 in the MVC with wins over Missouri State and UNI, two teams that should finish in the upper half. Loyola’s adjustment period, at home, is moving along quickly. UNI, on the other hand, is a mystery. The Panthers are 1-8 on the road, 1-4 in MVC games, and doesn’t look like a team that will challenge for second place.
- The MVC standings are crazy, with WSU (8-0) and Indiana State (7-1) the only teams above .500. Playing WSU and winning other games has raised Indiana State’s RPI to No. 43, which means it can think about at-large possibilities. Beating WSU on Feb. 5 in Terre Haute would give that candidacy a rocket boost.
Next up: vs. Loyola, 7 p.m. Tuesday (Cox 22)