WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall made his pitch to David Kyles, Garrett Stutz and Toure' Murry four years ago.
On Saturday, that promise was delivered in a celebration of No. 19 Wichita State's first Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship since 2006 after an 81-58 victory over Drake.
The Shockers (26-4, 16-2) had clinched the title earlier in the week.
``It's a special group,' Marshall said of his senior class. ``They had no idea what things were going to be like here. It wasn't a dream, but just a sales pitch, `This is what we can do at Wichita State.''
Ben Smith scored 18 points to lead Wichita State's balanced offense that saw Stutz add 15 points, Murry 14 and Kyles 13.
The Shockers also avenged their only loss in their last 17 games, a 93-86 triple-overtime thriller at Drake on Jan. 28.
Ben Simons scored all 21 of his points on 3-pointers to lead the Bulldogs (16-14, 9-9).
``I just remember when we first got here, knowing we had a lot of work to do,' Kyles said. ``And now we're finally on the bright side of things. We're still grinding, but at the same time we're not done with things. We're still hungry.'
Drake missed its first eight shots of the game, as Wichita State took a 12-1 lead. The Shockers left no doubt that the pre-game festivities for the seniors would not be a distraction.
``I didn't look like it to me,' Marshall said. ``I thought they were pretty focused.'
But that early cushion vanished once Simons hit four 3-pointers to close Drake within 15-13. The teams continued to trade runs, as Wichita State countered with its own 7-0 streak before the Bulldogs clawed back to get within 29-25 with 2:50 left.
Wichita State would go on the game's decisive run to end the first half, scoring the last seven points to take a 36-25 lead.
When Drake cut the deficit to 39-33, the Shockers' seniors responded by scoring all but two of the points in a 14-6 run.
Wichita State delivered the finishing blow with a 13-0 run midway through the second half. Smith started the run with a layup and 3-pointer, and it was punctuated by a slam dunk from Ehimen Orukpe with 5:32 left that made it 71-45.
``I knew that we were going to come out with great intensity,' Murry said. ``I feel like we're a mature enough team to handle (it). We just had to come out there with the aggression and play with the mindset that we've got to win.'
Drake never threatened after that, struggling through a 35.6 percent shooting performance. The Shockers outrebounded Drake 44-32.
Outside of Simons, the rest of the Bulldogs were 14 of 42 from the field.
``Not many teams can lose a player the quality of Joe Ragland, relative to their roster, and do what we did tonight,' Marshall said of the Shockers' second-leading scorer who didn't have a point.
Wichita State led by as many as 27 points in the second half to set the tone for the celebration after the game. The coaches and players cut down the nets to celebrate the conference championship.
``Great way to finish it out with five great kids, five unbelievable seniors,' Marshall said. ``To go out with that type of positive experience with the fans coming down on the courts and cutting down the nets, it was great.'
Wichita State will be the No. 1 seed in next week's Missouri Valley tournament.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved