Wichita State survived a late comeback attempt by Loyola-Chicago, defeating the Ramblers 87-75 and improving to 15-3 (5-0 in the Valley). The Shockers dominated for the majority of the game and led by as many as 19 early in the second half. Then, the comeback began. The Shockers slowed down offensively and made some mistakes on the defensive end. The Ramblers used free throws and hot shooting to cut the lead to 4, making it a game again. Zach Brown, who had been cold shooting the ball all game, stepped up and answered with a huge 3-pointer, extending the lead to 7. After that, the Shockers made enough free throws and plays to win the game. With the loss, Loyola falls to 12-6 (2-3 in the Valley).
Markis McDuffie played one his greatest games in a Wichita State uniform, scoring 26 points on 8 of 11 shooting. 9 other Shockers scored with Landry Shamet (11 points), Darral Willis (10), and Daishon Smith (10) all finishing in double digits. Loyola’s Milton Doyle also put on a show, scoring 23 points, dishing out 8 assists, and grabbing 7 rebounds.
This was kind of a weird game. For most of the first 30 minutes, the Shockers looked amazing. I was a little worried they were going to overlook the Ramblers because of the big matchup with Illinois State on Saturday (more on this later), but the Shockers came out focused and sharp on offense. For the game, the Shockers shot 54% from the field and 44% from the 3-point line. They also dished out 18 assists as a team. Offensively, Wichita State is now ranked 30th on KenPom, and it definitely showed in this one.
Honestly, I could write about 8 or 9 WSU players in this section, but to save time (yours and mine), here are 3. Zach Brown did not have a great offensive game. Wait, why is this in “The Good” section? Let me finish! Brown was 0 for 3 shooting at halftime and only had 2 points with around 4 minutes to go. Many players would have shied away from shooting the ball in this situation on a cold-shooting night. Not Zach Brown. He was still confident in his abilities, so he stepped up and drilled a 3, ultimately winning the game. Shooters have to keep shooting. Well done, Mr. Brown.
Rashard Kelly and Rauno Nurger both came off the bench to help Wichita State win. Kelly played only 12 minutes, but he made his presence felt with 7 points (including 2 3-pointers), 2 rebounds, and 1 assist. It was the most points he has scored since he dropped 15 on Saint Louis in early December. Nurger didn’t score much (2 points) but led the team in rebounds with 6. He did a nice job of sealing off his opponent with great positioning to grab the rebounds. For many possessions, it was textbook material on how to rebound.
The Shockers led by 19 at home and allowed their opponent to cut the lead to 4. That’s bad. How did this happen? Wichita State’s defense was porous at times, and Loyola won the rebounding battle 35-30. There were 4 or 5 times in the game when the Shockers’ defense completely broke down and allowed the Ramblers to score on an easy layup. Last year, WSU’s defense was elite, ending the season ranked 1st on KenPom. Although the Shockers still have a great defense, it’s no longer elite (34th on KenPom). To be fair, Wichita State’s offense is much better this year, but its defense still needs to improve.
Player of the Game
Markis McDuffie. Seriously, who else would I pick? He was flat-out phenomenal. He scored down low. He scored from 3. He did pretty much whatever he wanted to do. He has so much versatility in his game that defenders just don’t know how to guard him. If you give him space on the perimeter, he’ll pull up for a 3. If you guard him too closely, he’ll drive past you for a layup. He still has a long way to go, but I fully expect him to be drafted in the first round of the NBA. It’s not a question of “if” but a question of “when.” McDuffie finished with 26 points (including 4 3s), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal.
Tweet of the Game
Zach Brown's three snaps the drought, loudest Koch Arena has been this season. 78-71 Shockers leading.#watchus
— Tim Slack (@TimSlack7) January 12, 2017
It was nerve-racking watching the Shockers’ lead slip to only 4 late in the game, but it also gave Shocker fans an opportunity to be loud. Because of this, it was, by far, the best environment of the season. Fans were screaming, and the place was electric.
This is a big one, folks. On Saturday, Wichita State faces off against Illinois State in Normal, Illinois. Illinois State has turned into one of WSU’s biggest rivals of late. With both teams playing well and each with a perfect 5-0 record in the Valley, this rivalry game is bigger than ever. Expect Redbird Arena to be packed and ludicrously loud. The Shockers will be tested early and often. Illinois State’s defense (22nd on KenPom) is physical and plays exceptionally well. This game will be a low-scoring dogfight and one of the Shockers’ toughest games of the season. I don’t ever want to pick against the Shockers, but they will have to bring their “A” game for 40 minutes if they want to win.