OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Joe Ragland scored 24 points, Ben Smith matched his career high with 22 and Wichita State moved a step closer to the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship on Saturday with an 89-68 victory over No. 17 Creighton.
Wichita State (22-4, 13-2) has won 12 of its last 13 games and 20 of 22, while the Bluejays (21-5, 11-4) have lost three straight.
The Shockers won with limited help from 7-footer Garrett Stutz, who played only 13 minutes because of foul trouble and finished with eight points. They shot 59 percent from the floor, made eight 3-pointers and hit all 17 of their free throws. Ragland and Smith combined to go 17 for 24 from the floor.
Smith helped neutralize Creighton’s Doug McDermott, who had 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Gregory Echenique led the Bluejays with 16 points.
Wichita State led 49-36 at the break and scored on 10 straight possessions bridging the first and second halves.
The Shockers would assure themselves a share of the MVC championship with one more win and the outright title with two. They finish conference play with Missouri State (at home), Illinois State (away) and Drake (home).
Creighton lost a third straight conference game for the first time since January 2008 in front of a record crowd of 18,735 at the CenturyLink Center.
Creighton had overcome double-digit deficits to beat Wichita State six times since 2003. That wasn’t going to happen Saturday even though Stutz was on the bench with two fouls for about the last nine minutes of the first half.
Stutz, averaging 21 points over the previous seven games, helped the Shockers stay in front after they took the lead with an early 11-0 run. He came into the game 4 for 20 from 3-point range this season but stepped behind the arc unchallenged and made two in the first 11 minutes.
The Shockers led by five points when he went to the bench with 8:50 left in the half. The bulge grew to 10 before Creighton cut it in half, but Wichita State scored 16 of the last 24 points of the half, with Smith’s 3 extending his team’s lead to 13.
Stutz started the second half but was back on the bench within 18 seconds after getting called for foul No. 3. His continued absence didn’t slow down the Shockers, who got a four-point play by Ragland while increasing the lead to 19 with 13 minutes left.
The Bluejays, who won the season’s first meeting 68-61 in Wichita, were in position to win the conference’s regular-season title after the Shockers were upset at Drake on Jan. 28.
But Creighton slipped into second place after back-to-back road losses to Northern Iowa and Evansville in which it shot a combined 41 percent. The Bluejays shot 40 percent against the Shockers.
Saturday’s loss probably will cost the Bluejays their spot in the Top 25 and, for a team that had hopes of making a run in March, likely damage their NCAA tournament seeding. A loss or two the rest of the way actually could leave them needing to win the conference tournament to get into the NCAAs.