It all began with a kick.
With 41.2 seconds remaining in regulation Illinois State forward Jackie Carmichael grabbed a rebound with the Redbirds leading by seven, 67-60. But in his aggressive corralling of the basketball his foot struck Wichita State’s Tekele Cotton in the face.
After reviewing the play the officials would hit Carmichael with a flagrant 1, beginning an 8-0 run that would ultimately give the Shockers an improbable 68-67 victory.
The victory, which was clinched on a Cleanthony Early three-pointer with 4.8 seconds remaining, gives Wichita State (22-5, 11-4 Missouri Valley) sole possession of first place in the Valley while also cooling off an Illinois State team that had won seven of its last eight games after an 0-6 league start.
Malcolm Armstead, who assisted on Early’s game-winner, scored 18 points to lead the way offensively for Wichita State and the Shockers won despite being outscored by 17 points from the foul line (30-13) and committing 14 turnovers.
As a result of the win Gregg Marshall’s team has control of the Missouri Valley race with three league games remaining, but the road to a second consecutive regular season title will not be an easy one to navigate.
Wichita State still has to visit both Indiana State (Tuesday) and Creighton (March 2), with the game in Omaha also being the regular season finale for both. But for a conference that in recent weeks hurt its tournament profile in the eyes of some bracketologists, Wichita State’s win keeps them in position to grab an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament (if needed).
With a loss at Southern Illinois in their most recent road game, getting back on track away from home was something the Shockers needed to do ahead of those upcoming games that will determine the MVC title.
And if the break Wichita State needed came by way of an opponent’s foot, so be it.