Unanimously accepted as the overwhelming favorites to win the Missouri Valley Conference this college basketball season, the Wichita State Shockers are easily one of the best teams in the country when at full strength.
On Tuesday night in a tough road game at the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Shockers got into foul trouble early and had to rely on their bench to stay in the game. The bad news for the rest of the MVC is that the depth is just fine in its own right, and Wichita State is still a threat to run away with The Valley title even if they have to go eight or nine deep due to foul trouble or other considerations. The Shockers beat Alabama 72-67 to go 11-0 on the season. Alabama fell to 5-5.
Wichita State led 33-32 at halftime despite playing the final six minutes of the first half without three of its top players (forward Cleanthony Early, guard Ron Baker and guard Fred VanVleet) having two fouls each and sitting on the bench. The Shockers led the game 23-19 when all three players had two fouls, and were only outscored 13-10 from there until the end of the half.
This left the Shockers in an enviable position to start the second half, bringing back its stars and holding the lead. But Wichita State was challenged again less than four minutes into the half, when Baker was called for a questionable foul and went to the bench with three personals. The Shockers led 38-34 when Baker left the game. He came back with 8:10 left and Alabama up only one at 52-51. Baker didn’t commit his fourth foul until there was 8.1 seconds left and the Shockers were up five. But Baker finished with just eight points.
Having made up just five points while Baker was on the bench, the Crimson Tide were further hurt by committing seven fouls in the first 11 minutes of the half, putting the Shockers in the bonus for the rest of the game.
Wichita State’s depth was seen by the nine points from reserve forward Darius Carter and five by backup guard Nick Wiggins. The Shockers (16 total bench points) didn’t always have the lead through the second half, but they were always in the game and late on, with foul trouble having subsided, Anthony took control, finishing with 26 points, including 11-for-11 from the free-throw line, as Wichita State made Alabama pay for its repeated fouls. Wiggins made a key layup with 5:30 to go in the first half that put the Shockers up five with their star trio on the bench.
The team effort allowed Wichita State to win its second consecutive game against an SEC team, having previously beaten Tennessee 70-61 on Saturday. Having an excellent starting five in place and depth that can pick up the slack when the Shockers face foul trouble or other issues should guarantee Wichita State will be the class of the MVC again this season.