Prior to Wednesday’s game at No. 25 Utah, the last time No. 8 Wichita State lost a regular season game the Shockers were in the midst of a season that would end in the Final Four. Former Missouri Valley rival Creighton beat Gregg Marshall’s Shockers in March 2013, and since then Wichita State has won 35 consecutive regular season games.
That streak came to an end in Salt Lake City, as the Utes won by the final score of 69-68 in overtime, winning the kind of game they struggled to wrap up a season ago and adding a quality win to their resume at the same time.
There were multiple issues for Wichita State, most notably on the offensive end of the floor. As a team the Shockers shot 38.1% from the field, and they only assisted on eight of their 24 made field goals. Junior point guard Fred Van Vleet made just five of his 19 attempts from the field, with Utah’s defense forcing Wichita State to do more off the dribble with the majority of their shots being challenged.
To Van Vleet’s credit, he made some big plays during a run late in regulation that erased a nine-point deficit and forced overtime. However, winning’s tough for a team when they assist on just 33.3% of their made baskets as Wichita State did. Entering Wednesday, the Shockers assisted on just over 55 percent of their made field goals.
Four starters scored in double figures for Wichita State and the fifth, Evan Wessel, added six points and nine rebounds with some key plays in the extra session. Wichita State was able to take advantage of Utah turnovers (14 points off turnovers) and second-chance opportunities, outscoring the Utes 15-4 in second chance points. But their bench was outscored 24-10, with Utah receiving key scoring contributions from Dakarai Tucker (13 points) and Brekkott Chapman (eight).
With Utah playing without injured starter Jordan Loveridge, those contributions along with Brandon Taylor’s 17 points and Delon Wright’s 13 (seven rebounds and six assists, as well) were key for Utah. And therein lies the key for Wichita State moving forward, with games against a rebuilding Saint Louis and 6-0 Seton Hall next on the schedule.
At this point it’s known that Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton will lead the way, with senior forward Darius Carter being a more productive offensive option than he was a season ago. But who else is capable of stepping forward, especially amongst the big men? Utah freshman Jakob Poeltl was a handful, finishing the game with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and he combined with fellow big man Dallin Bachynski to grab seven of Utah’s ten offensive rebounds.
Those extra opportunities didn’t hurt Wichita State on the scoreboard, as noted above, but in a game as close as this having to spend more time on defense can add up (especially at high altitude). That being said, Wichita State will be fine provided front court players such as Rashard Kelly and Shaquille Morris improve as the season wears on.
Van Vleet won’t shoot as poorly as he did in Salt Lake City, and the mindset (“Play angry”) that led to Wichita State’s winning 35 straight regular season games is also the reason why the Shockers will rebound.