Shockers overcome Sycamores, illness in win
ST. LOUIS — He felt like fresh hell, twice baked. Demetric Williams woke up sick Friday. Not sick sick. Not puke-in-the-trash-cans-during-TV-timeouts sick. But sick enough.
"I just told the trainer I was coughing a lot," the Wichita State guard said after his 15th-ranked Shockers crushed Indiana State, 72-48, in the first quarterfinal of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Then he shrugged. "My tonsils were a little swollen. And he just gave me the meds, and I was OK. Joe (Ragland) got a little sick, and (Garrett) Stutz, too. It was going around."
In fact, the only thing more contagious in the Shockers' locker room right now might be their defensive intensity. This bunch gets after you like a box of angry cats, a flurry of arms and elbows.
"I felt like they were on top of everything we wanted to do," Indiana State forward Carl Richard said, which would explain why his Sycamores missed 19 of their first 21 shots and found themselves saddled with a 22-5 deficit midway through the first half. "They took away our strength, and we just didn't come with any type of resistance and any type of counter to their attack."
Over the first 20 minutes Friday, the Sycamores netted four field goals. Wichita State guard Toure' Murry had five.
"They're so athletic and they're big around the basket," offered Indiana State coach Greg Lansing, who burst the Shockers' bubble at this event a year ago, upsetting Wichita State in the semifinals en route to an MVC tourney championship. "They're so athletic and they can pressure you and they come at you in waves. Every guy that comes off the bench is an athlete, too."
The longer you look at these Shockers, now 27-4, the harder it is to find a weakness. They're deep. They're quick. They're experienced – 11 of the 16 players on the roster are either a junior or a senior.
They can play small. They can play big. They've got one 7-footer in the starting lineup and another coming off the bench, as well as 6-8 bruiser Carl Hall, the MVC's Newcomer Of The Year. They feature six players who averaged at least 8.7 points per game coming into the Valley tournament. They can beat you in about nine different ways, but their favorite is over the head.
"This is the best team I've seen in the league," offered Lansing, who's logged plenty of miles on the MVC circuit. "They're really, really good."
They make it look effortless. Easy. The consensus is that the Shockers can and should do damage in Bracketville, so long as they don't become too reliant on the 3-point line to bail them out of jams. Or fall asleep for long stretches, as they've shown on occasion, and offered up again on Friday: Indiana State scored the first nine points of the second half and opened the period on an 11-3 run.
With the Shockers nursing a 40-26 lead, Stutz threw up an air ball from the 3-point line, drawing a death stare from coach Gregg Marshall. When David Kyles mishandled an alley-oop pass from Ragland with 10:46 to go in the second half, Marshall put his head in his hand and covered his eyes.
So no, they weren't perfect. But they were awfully, awfully close.
"I love it when my teams play with that type of confidence," Marshall said. "I don't want it to be cocky. I don't want it to be demeaning or disrespectful or unsportsmanlike. But I love when they have a swagger about them … you don't want to play tentative or scared or with reservation. So this team is playing like that right now."
They played like a team on a mission, out to settle old scores. The Sycamores were first on the hit list, having snatched up a 2011 NCAA Tournament bid that the Shockers were convinced, to a man, was rightfully theirs.
"Coming into the game, we knew last year that this was the team that let us out (of the NCAA tourney) and shut us out," Williams said. "We just wanted to go out there and set an example from the jump, right off the tip."
Everybody knows their role, too: Murry is the heart; Ragland is the head; Stutz, the 7-foot backbone; Hall, the muscle.
But Williams is the soul, the designated pest. Since the Las Vegas native was inserted into the starting lineup on January 4, the Shockers are 17-1 and have given up more than 70 points in a contest just four times.
Marshall turned the kid loose on Jake Odum, and he made the Indiana State star a non-factor — six points on 2-of-9 shooting, with one assist and two turnovers.
"He might be sick, but when the lights come on, that ball gets tipped, you're not going to tell from his performance," Ragland gushed. "He's the most underrated defender in this conference. A lot of people don't know about him. But soon, they'll find out."
The hard way.
"This team is very hungry," Williams said, grinning as he wolfed down a slice of postgame pizza. "And we haven't reached our potential yet. I feel like we've got a lot more to show."
One down. Two to go.