Wiggins pushes Wichita State past Drake
DES MOINES (AP) — Wichita State is off to its best start in 30 years despite the absence of three of its starters. That injured trio is going to have to earn its playing time back, because these Shockers are on a roll.
Nick Wiggins scored a season-high 18 points off the bench and Wichita State beat host Drake 75-63 on Wednesday night to match its best start in 59 years.
Malcolm Armstead added 14 for the Shockers, who are 13-1 for just the second time since starting with 16 wins in 17 tries in 1953-54, and despite the absence of starters Carl Hall, Ron Baker and Evan Wessel.
None of them played Wednesday, but Wichita State had more than enough to get past the sloppy Bulldogs and match the 13-1 start of the 1982-83 team.
“Maybe we should start calling them former starters, because these guys are doing a great job. When they come back, they’ll have to fight for their spots,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “We have a veteran team, even though it’s a new team.”
Wichita State broke things open with an 18-3 run at the outset of the second half in winning their second Missouri Valley Conference game in as many tries.
The Bulldogs got within 69-61 with 1:01 left, but Wichita State had little trouble running out the clock.
Freshmen Joey King and Micah Mason combined for 29 points for the Bulldogs (6-7, 0-2), who committed 19 turnovers in falling back below .500.
“We continue to make progress on the physical side of play,” Drake coach Mark Phelps said. “For the second game in a row, turnovers ending up being our undoing.”
The Shockers blew an early 12-point lead. But they got it back — and then some — with a tremendous start to the second half.
Wichita State broke a 34-34 tie with a pair of 3s from Cleanthony Early, and the Shockers defense held the streaky Bulldogs to just six points in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Demetric Williams and Wiggins nailed jumpers ahead of two crushing 3s from Armstead that gave the Shockers a 55-40 lead with 10:41 left.
Early had 11 points and big man Ehimen Orukpe had 10 with six boards for Wichita State.
“By and large, I’m really proud of what these guys are doing. It’s just a group that is doing some great things in every phase,” Marshall said. “We’re deep.”
Drake got off to a terrible start, turning it over seven times before even notching an assist. But the Bulldogs woke up and reeled off 12 straight points — a stretch capped by a 25-foot 3 off the glass from Mason — to tie it at 21.
Wichita State, led by 14 first-half points from Wiggins in just seven minutes, was able to scramble back to its locker room with a 34-32 lead.
“I was feeling good after I hit my first two shots, and they kept leaving me open,” Wiggins said.
The Shockers proved to be just fine after that. But given how strong they’ve been so far, that was hardly a surprise.
Wichita State fell from the ranks of the unbeaten and out of the Top 25 after a narrow loss at Tennessee three weeks ago. But these Shockers remain relevant nationally — and a serious contender in the MVC.
Wichita State ranked 18th in RPI as of Monday thanks to wins over VCU, DePaul and Iowa, and the Shockers opened league play by blasting Northern Iowa 66-41.
Drake remains one of the nation’s top 3-point shooting teams, but the Bulldogs are just 12 of 52 from beyond the arc in their last two games, both losses.
Leading scorer Ben Simons scored just eight points for the Bulldogs, who had few answers for the streaking Shockers.
“We played one of the best teams in the country right now,” Phelps said.