Wichita State is going back to the NCAA Tounament for the sixth consecutive time, a Missouri Valley Conference record. The Shockers(30-4,17-1 MVC) were able to grind out a 71-51 victory against a spirited Illinois State Redbirds (27-6, 17-1 MVC) at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO.
Following dual 17-1 Missouri Valley Conference marks and road losses against each other, good enough for a share of the regular season title, these two evenly matched foes were destined for a third and final game. ISU will now have to wait for “Selection Sunday” (CBS, 5:30 EST) to see if they can secure an at-large bid, although many experts have felt they will be left out. Wichita State has pretty much been the standard bearer for the MVC in recent years, and will likely be the conference’s sole representative.
The deficit felt like it was much larger. At no point did it ever feel like Illinois State would be able to mount any sort of rebuttal, although the difference between the two hovered between eight and ten, and the Shockers never trailed. But, through most of the season, the Redbirds lived and died by the three, and today their death appeared in the form of shooting a miserable 21.4% (6-28).
The Shockers opened the game with a 10-2 run, capped with a dunk by Junior Forward Zach Brown, after a sweet shovel pass from Landry Shamet between two Redbird defenders.
The Shockers were just too big and physical for Redbirds, capitalizing on offensive rebounds and scoring off turnovers. They also played air-tight defense, smothering ISU ballhandlers, and forcing mistakes. Conner Frankamp paced the offense in the first half scoring 13 of his 18 points while hitting 5-8 from the field and leading the Shockers to a 33-25 halftime lead.
The lone bright spot was MVC Player & Defensive Player of the Year Paris Lee. He too had his shooting difficulties Sunday afternoon.
Before the game, WSU Coach Gregg Marshall Stood before his team and preached to them, “Don’t try to be perfect. Just go out and be special.” And they weren’t perfect. But they did secure their 6th straight tournament entry, and that’s pretty special.