WICHITA, Kansas – WSU sent its five seniors out on a strong note, rolling to an impressive 74-58 Senior Day win over Illinois State, Saturday afternoon at Charles Koch Arena.
Each of the top three scorers for WSU (23-7, 16-2 MVC) were seniors. Fred VanVleet and Anton Grady scored 16 each, and Ron Baker chipped in 10 points.
VanVleet (6-of-10 from the field, 3-of-6 from deep) posted nine assists to moved into the top-5 on the Missouri Valley Conference’s all-time list. He also set a new modern conference record by participating in his 63rd MVC victory.
Grady hit 6-of-9 attempts from the field and grabbed five rebounds.
In a fitting farewell game of his own, Evan Wessel cleared a team-high eight rebounds (four on the offensive end), three steals and two assists, while also taking a charge.
DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell led the Redbirds with 15 points and MiKyle McIntosh chipped in 14 before fouling out.
WSU’s 45th-consecutive sellout crowd helped turn a tight game into a party. Up 26-24 at the 7:11-mark of the first half, the Shockers (23-7, 16-2 MVC) launched a 17-0 run to take control.
During that stretch, ISU (18-13, 12-6 MVC) turned it over six times in nine possessions. The Redbirds burned two timeouts in an effort to regroup, but it did little to slow WSU’s momentum. The hosts hit 7-of-8 from the field and led by 11-or-more points the rest of the way.
The Shockers avenged an early February loss at Illinois State that snapped their 12-game winning streak and spoiled an 11-0 start to MVC play. Since dropping a home game a week later to UNI, WSU has regrouped with five-straight wins by average of 26.4 points.
Already the national leader in turnover margin, WSU posted a double-digit differential for the seventh time this year. The Shockers forced 17 Redbird turnovers with help from seven steals and finished with just six giveaways of their own (+11).
As a result, WSU outscored ILS 24-3 in points off of turnovers.
WSU also reversed its rebounding fortunes. In the loss in Normal, the Shockers were out-rebounded by 11 and surrendered 13 offensive boards. They were much better Saturday, winning the battle 40-33, while this time snagging 16 offensive caroms of their own.
The Redbirds scored their first 15 points off of three-pointers, connecting on 5-of-6 to start the game. That allowed them to keep pace, despite an amped up crowd and a proficient offensive start for the hosts.
Down 15-12, Conner Frankamp (8 points) and VanVleet hit consecutive treys. Two Grady free throws capped an 8-0 push that gave the Shockers are 20-15 advantage with 10:52 to play in the opening half.
Paris Lee provided ILS with its first field goal from inside the arc at 10:42, and Nick Banyard connected on another Redbird triple to tie the score at 20.
ILS was unable to keep up its torrid three-point pace. After draining 10 in the first 10 minutes, the Redbirds hit just 3 (on 15 attempts) over the final 30.
While the Redbirds struggled for new sources of offense, WSU dropped the hammer two minute, 11 second stretch of dominance, scoring 15 quick points. Grady scored three field goals, VanVleet threw a highlight reel alley-oop to Markis McDuffie in transition and later pulled up for a 25-foot three-pointer. A Kelly putback and a McDuffie jumper closed out a 17-0 run.
The Shockers led briefly by 20 but settled for a 46-28 halftime lead.
ILS rallied to within 51-40 with 13:24 to go, but WSU never seemed to be in any danger. Another 18-4 Shocker run followed, capped by back-to-back alley-oop assists from VanVleet. The first came Rashard Kelly and the last to Shaquille Morris, as WSU claimed a 25-point lead (69-44) with 7:31 to go.
Marshall played his five seniors together for two minutes before subbing them out one-by-one over the final minute and change. Grady took a seat at 1:19, Wessel went to the bench at :49. VanVleet, Baker and Wamukota made staggered exits with :23 to go.
In a postgame ceremony, WSU honored the five seniors, accepted the 2016 MVC championship trophy and cut down the nets. The Shockers are just the second Valley team in 46 years to win a regular season title in three-consecutive years, joining Southern Illinois (four-straight from 2002-05).
Next up, the Shockers head to St. Louis for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament March 3-6 at the Scottrade Center. Wichita State will be the No. 1 seed and will face the winner of the No. 8 Loyola and No. 9 Bradley on Friday, March 4 at 12:05 p.m.