Unlike Shockers teams in recent years, for now, Wichita State will take wins any way it can get them.
Style points, winning streaks, undefeated seasons — all of that is immaterial. It’s about victories of any variety. Wichita State entered its Wednesday night home showdown against upstart UNLV as a sub-.500 team. It was the first time you could say that about a Gregg Marshall Shockers team since 2008.
So it’s no overstatement to say Marshall’s team saved its season by scraping past UNLV. The home victory finished 56-50 in WSU’s favor, and star point guard Fred VanVleet had a team-high 17 points.
Even though the win was tough to come by in, really, a punch-it-out type of game, it was clear just how vital VanVleet’s presence was to this team. Remember, he missed four games earlier this season due to a tender hamstring and iffy ankle. In that stretch Wichita State lost three of its four games, the only win coming against a school outside Division I (Emporia State).
UNLV (7-2) blew its chances by taking bad shot after bad shot, plus being forced into 19 turnovers. It gave something of C-minus effort, all things consider. A C-plus showing gets Dave Rice’s team a victory on Wednesday night.
The Shockers have now won 35 consecutive games at home. It’s a school record and the third-longest streak in the country. The last home loss came in February 2013. Marshall will be frustrated, but maybe also a little relieved, that his team won despite being unusually poor from the foul line, going 11 for 22.
It’s also important to remember that Wichita State is still without an important big man, Anton Grady, who suffered a spinal concussion in November and is still a couple of weeks away from being able to play again. Also: This was the first game for an important player who could become a critical shot-maker for WSU down the way. Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp, who came off the benh, had two points and two steals.
Frankamp will work more and more into the mix for Marshall as WSU heads toward league play.
The work is not done for Wichita State. This was the first of a huge back-to-back opportunity at home to rebuild its résumé. With the UNLV win behind them, the Shockers will now prepare for a game against Utah on Saturday. It’s a rematch of last season’s terrific 69-68 overtime affair in Salt Lake City, which the Utes won.
For Wichita State to establish a semblance of an at-large résumé worth considering in March, beating Utah this weekend is just as important as was knocking off UNLV on Wednesday night.