Like a scene out of Remember the Titans, Wichita State took the court on Sunday with the goal to leave no doubt. The Missouri Valley Conference is still the Shockers’ domain, and conferences foes simply can’t measure up.
Wichita State (30-4) defeated Illinois State 71-51 to win the MVC Tournament title and earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Shockers are heading to the Big Dance for the sixth straight season, but they carry the MVC’s automatic bid for just the second time in that span.
After sluggish starts in the first two rounds of Arch Madness, the Shockers were sharp and effective early in the final. They sprinted to a 10-2 advantage in the opening 3:27 before Illinois State head coach Dan Muller could call a timeout. By that time, Redbird starting forward Phil Fayne had accumulated two fouls.
Illinois State (27-6) never seemed to recover. Fouls were a problem the entire game, as three players — Fayne, MiKyle McIntosh and Deontae Hawkins — fouled out. The latter two were also whistled for technical fouls.
Tournament Most Outstanding Player Conner Frankamp set the tone early with a long-distance three-pointer. He connected two more times from beyond the arc in the first half, giving him 11 triples for the tournament. His 19 points led all scorers, while Markis McDuffie (16) and Landry Shamet (14) joined him in double figures.
The Shockers won their 15th straight game and swept their last two games with ISU by a combined 61 points. Wichita State leaves no doubt and the Shockers have no discernible weaknesses. Once again, 10 different players scored. Saturday’s scoring leader, Shaquille Morris, tallied just four points on Sunday, but he contributed significantly with 10 rebounds. Substitutes Rashard Kelly and Darral Willis started the second half instead of Morris and McDuffie. Kelly contributed eight rebounds and Willis scored nine points and hauled in seven boards.
Even the hard-driving Gregg Marshall had to admit that his team played well.
“I thought we played very well against a very good team,” Marshall said. “I thought it was a very thorough performance. We defended well. We made our free throws. We got the ball inside. We rebounded well. We shot it well. So that results in a 20-point win, and that's hard to do against that team.”
ISU’s Paris Lee was named to the all-tournament team and led the Redbirds with 18 points. Joining Frankamp and Lee on the all-tournament team were Wichita State’s Shamet, Missouri State’s Alize Johnson and Evansville’s Jaylon Brown, who led all tournament scorers with 51 points despite playing in just two games.
The Redbirds are now forced to wait and hope the NCAA selection committee deems them worthy of an at-large bid. In the most recent RPI, the Redbirds ranked 26th in the nation.
There were Shocker doubters earlier in the season, but now some are comparing this year’s edition to the undefeated team from 2014. Marshall says they are comparable.
“We had an undefeated team, and we have a team that went to the Final Four,” he said. “This team's comparable. It really is. We've got so many weapons defensively. We play hard, try to play smart. We're very deep, pretty big, athletic, skilled, and talented.”
And they leave no doubt.