No. 11 Wichita St. claims MVC title, tops 10th-ranked Northern Iowa
Playing in front of a spirited crowd in one of the biggest home games in school history, Wichita State responded.
Ron Baker scored 17 points and Fred VanVleet added 13 to help the 11th-ranked Shockers beat No. 10 Northern Iowa 74-60 on Saturday and win the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title for a second straight season.
"Combined with ‘College GameDay’ being here, a top-10 opponent, playing for a championship, I’ve coached 17 years and this is the biggest regular-season home game I’ve ever had," Shockers coach Gregg Marshall. "Our team responded. And our fans responded. It was electric."
Wichita State (27-3, 17-1) had five double-figure scorers as Tekele Cotton, Darius Carter and Evan Wessel each had 11 points.
Northern Iowa (27-3, 16-2) had just one: Seth Tuttle scored 16 points. The Panthers entered the game fourth nationally allowing 53.8 points per game but could not stop the Shockers or continue a 16-game winning streak.
"Wichita State was more aggressive in their press, more aggressive on ball screens than when we played them the first time," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. "And VanVleet and Baker having 14 assists and no turnovers, we didn’t do a good enough job pressuring those guys."
Through the game’s initial 10 minutes, Northern Iowa had things going to plan. The Panthers built a 20-16 lead, and Tuttle got Wichita State’s top two centers into foul trouble. Carter and Shaquille Morris combined for four fouls in just 10 minutes played.
That was similar to when Northern Iowa beat Wichita State 70-54 on Jan. 31.
But the Shockers finished the half on a 22-6 run. There were surprising contributions from little-used Zach Brown (a 3-pointer) and Bush Wamukota (two interior baskets) in the spurt, but the highlights went to the stars.
With the shot clock about to expire, Cotton swished a 3-pointer from 25 feet and 24 seconds later, VanVleet sank a high-arching 3-pointer.
"That Cotton 3-pointer put a dent in us," Jacobson said.
VanVleet added free throws for a 38-26 halftime lead.
"There was a moment as a team," Tuttle said, "when, and I don’t even want to use the word, but we got soft."
Wichita State advanced its advantage in the second half’s first five minutes. A Baker layup, VanVleet jumper and Morris dunk equaled a quick 6-0 run that gave the Shockers a 51-33 lead with 15:20 remaining.
The Panthers shot their way back into the game behind the 3-point line. Four 3-pointers, two from Paul Jesperson, accounted for a 12-0 Panthers run.
Suddenly, Wichita State’s lead was cut to 53-49 with 9:15 to play, and Marshall called a timeout, a rarity for him.
"I definitely felt we had the momentum, and that’s what good teams do: make comebacks," Jesperson said. "But Wichita State is a good team, too, and they answered."
It was still a four-point game when Wessel — who entered the game shooting 32.9 percent from the 3-point line — hit a wide-open trey from the baseline.
Wessel hit another 3-pointer a minute later, part of an 11-3 run that gave the Shockers a 68-56 lead with 4:02 remaining.
Wessel went 3 of 6 from the 3-point line, part of Wichita State shooting 11 of 24 from behind the arc.
"We tried to space them out more than the first game," Baker said. "Our spacing was really good, and we were able to get good shots."
The Shockers were able to attain another championship, too.
"We had 19 assists and three turnovers vs. eight and 10 for them," Marshall said. "That’s probably the difference in the game."
DIFFERENT STORY: A finalist for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, Tuttle had 29 points on 9-of-13 shooting against Wichita State the first time. On Saturday, Tuttle had 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He had only two first-half shot attempts.
"We tried to throw a lot of guys at him and get him out of a rhythm," Marshall said. "We were more of a pest to him than we were at his place."
Northern Iowa: Sixteen MVC wins are the most for a conference runner-up. Two conference losses are the fewest for a Missouri Valley runner-up since 1960. … The Panthers beat the Shockers 70-54 on Jan. 31.
Wichita State: The last time five Shockers scored in double figures was last season’s conference tournament championship game. … The Shockers have won 32 straight home games, fourth longest active streak nationally. … Wichita State avoided a regular-season sweep. The only teams to sweep the Shockers in the regular season in Marshall’s eight seasons are Evansville in 2012-13 and Missouri State in 2010-11.
Northern Iowa: Friday at MVC Tournament in St. Louis.
Wichita State: Friday at MVC Tournament in St. Louis.