Dan Muller

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

Illinois State makes bubble teams sweat with ‘Arch Madness’ semifinal win over No. 8 Wichita State

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For bubble teams this time of year means that they’ll spend a considerable amount of time scoreboard-watching, not just to keep tabs on other teams working to earn an NCAA tournament bid but also to watch conference tournaments where the NCAA tournament bids are essentially known.

Saturday afternoon Illinois State, a team that needs to win its league’s automatic bid to go to the NCAA tournament, made things a little more complicated for bubble teams across the country by knocking off No. 8 Wichita State 65-62 in a Missouri Valley semifinal. Daishon Knight was outstanding for the Redbirds, scoring 25 points on 10-for-15 shooting from the field, and his two free throws with 7.6 seconds remaining provided the final margin.

Knight scored 16 of his points in the second half, shooting 6-for-7 from the field as Dan Muller’s team erased and eight-point halftime deficit. Overall Illinois State shot better than 63 percent from the field in the second half, doing a good job of creating quality looks. Add in a 15-for-17 half from the foul line, and Illinois State was able to produce enough offense to beat one of the nation’s best defensive teams.

Gregg Marshall’s team shot 45 percent from the field but just 4-for-18 from three. How much of a concern should this be for Wichita State, especially with Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet combining to shoot 2-for-12 from three Saturday? Not too much, as they entered the game shooting a respectable 36.6 percent from three on the season. The Shockers simply ran into an opponent in Illinois State that’s beginning to figure things out.

The Redbirds have now won six straight games, and the confidence they’re playing with on both ends (playing multiple zone defenses had an effect on Wichita State’s offense Saturday) makes this group a serious threat to grab the Missouri Valley’s automatic bid. And no bubble team wants to see that happen.