With the game slipping away, Wichita State suddenly looked like NCAA tournament veterans. Composed and lethal.
A two-point lead with under 8 minutes to play became a cruise to the finish line for the Shockers after they hit Vanderbilt with a 14-0 run to set up a 70-50 victory in the Tuesday nightcap of the First Four in Dayton.
The 11th-seeded Shockers will now head east to Providence to face No. 6 Arizona in the first round of the South region.
Throughout parts of the game, it looked as though Wichita State was the team the NCAA tournament committee thought they were when they sent them to Dayton following their Missouri Valley Conference semifinals loss to Northern Iowa, struggling to score or find separation from Vandy. Senior Ron Baker in particular struggled, finishing 3 of 11 from the field.
Then, after the midway point of the second half and with their season certainly hanging in the balance, the Shockers looked like the team that won 16 of 18 MVC games, finished the year ranked 12th in KenPom and had tons of NCAA tournament experience.
Baker (who made 7 of 8 free throws) finished with 14 points, as did fellow senior Fred VanVleet, who also suffered a cut above his right eye.
Riley LaChance and Joe Toye both had 10 points for Vanderbilt, which finishes the season 19-14.
The headline for Wichita State was that its top-ranked KenPom defense has the ability to tighten the screws against a very good offense from the SEC. The Commodores managed just 20 second-half points and just two in the last 8 minutes, 42 seconds. They shot 30.2 percent from the floor. and 15.8 percent from 3-point range. It was truly a dominant defensive performance down the stretch.
The Shockers may have backed into the field, but their defense showed Tuesday it may be good enough to keep them there for some time.