On Tuesday, Wichita State senior guard Fred VanVleet was not going to allow anything to end his college career.
Not even an elbow at around the five-minute mark of the first half that spurred a gushing bleeding cut above his eye could slow him down. Instead of taking the time to get it stitched up, VanVleet went to the sidelines, had the trainers patch it up quickly and get him back on the floor.
And in the end, that moment of toughness ended up being a perfect symbol of the divergent paths taken by Wichita State and Vanderbilt this season.
The Shockers defeated the Commodores 70-50, as VanVleet was his typical terrific self in scoring 14 points and dishing out seven assists versus only one turnover.
Here are the three things you need to know about VanVleet, Gregg Marshall and company ending Vanderbilt’s season.
Tell me this guy cares about travel… here comes VanVleet & the Shockers. pic.twitter.com/pHkOAskleu
— Dave Cooney (@CooneyLand) March 16, 2016
1. Wichita State used a pair of huge second half runs after an ugly, stop-start first half to win the game
Let’s not sugarcoat things. The first half of this game was not well played and was poorly officiated. Neither team took advantage of open shots and the stop-start nature of the whistle made for a choppy beginning. It was 30-30 at the end of the first half, and it seemed like anyone’s ballgame.
But in the end, the Shockers’ experience won through. Wichita used a 16-0 run at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half to stretch out a double-digit lead. Vanderbilt did push the lead back to within 50-48, but then the wheels totally came off of its ship in the last 8:30.
Wichita State closed the game on a 20-2 run as it held Vanderbilt without a field goal throughout that entire final stretch of the ballgame.
“We’ve been here before, we know how to act in these situations,” VanVleet said after the game. “Experience is very underrated in these scenarios.”
Indeed, VanVleet was dead on about that.
2. Wichita State won this game mentally with experience and hustle
Simply put, this game was exactly what we’ve seen from these two teams when healthy all season. Wichita State buckles down when the going gets tough, using its experience and mental toughness to shine through in the end. On the other hand, Vanderbilt did the opposite.
The key to the entire second half was Vanderbilt’s inability to stay disciplined defensively. In the early portion of the second half, it left VanVleet and fellow guard Ron Baker wide open on four consecutive possessions for 3-pointers, and the Wichita stars obliged in kind by making three of them. Their backside rim protection wasn’t quite up to par all night rotationally. VanVleet consistently drove directly by them in pick-and-rolls to create scramble situations, where the Commodores simply just didn’t have the wherewithal to recover properly to their men. That’s how Wichita State knocked home seven 3-pointers in the span of 13 minutes.
Those discipline issues were evident in other aspects of Vanderbilt’s game as well. Despite Vanderbilt’s massive size advantage on the frontline, Wichita State outrebounded Vanderbilt both in total and on a per-possession basis. On offense, they started to rush to get looks. The problems even extended to the sidelines, as coach Kevin Stallings was assessed a technical foul with three minutes left when the game was still somewhat in doubt. Following that moment, Vanderbilt seemingly gave up and just allowed Wichita to run out the game.
These kind of issues were Vanderbilt’s biggest issues throughout the season, so it’s no surprise they cropped up again in its final game. Wichita State simply out-hustled and out-smarted its counterparts on the basketball floor tonight.
3. Wichita State now moves on to create a must-watch first round matchup with Arizona
Man, is this going to be a great game. Two great coaches in Marshall and Sean Miller. Two sets of experienced players with Baker and VanVleet taking on guys like Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson and Gabe York. Two teams that tend not to shrink from the moment when it’s there for the taking.
I’ve already given extended thoughts on this game in an upsets column. Wichita State has a good chance to pick up a win here, as this isn’t necessarily the most traditional Miller-coached team. It’s a deep team that’s strong offensively, but it can be prone to defensive problems. That’s going to make going against the nation’s No. 1 defense in Wichita State awfully difficult.
As for VanVleet’s status, I think everyone in the world should expect him to play and ball out in what could be his final collegiate game.
Just don’t expect him to be stitched up.
“I’m not a stitches guy, I don’t do needles,” VanVleet said after the game.
Needles might be the only things VanVleet is afraid of. Because after four years of watching him dominate in college, it’s clear that he’s not afraid of the big moment.