With an emphatic victory over the Missouri Valley Conference’s only ranked team, Wichita State finally received some of the recognition coach Gregg Marshall coveted as it cracked the Top 25 for the first time in more than five years.
Another win will result in the conference championship he desires.
The 24th-ranked Shockers look to earn a share of their first MVC regular-season title in six years Wednesday night when they host Missouri State.
While Creighton had been the team to beat in the MVC for much of the season, Wichita State (22-4, 13-2) showed no fear when it visited Omaha on Saturday, cruising to an 89-68 victory over the then-No. 17 Bluejays. Joe Ragland scored 24 and Ben Smith matched his career high with 22 points for the Shockers, who shot 58.2 percent from the floor and made half of their 16 3-pointers.
“Maybe we’ll get some press now,” Marshall said. “We’ve gotten some but we haven’t gotten nearly the amount of it that the Creighton team has.”
Marshall got his wish with Wichita State landing in the AP poll for the first time since Dec. 25, 2006.
The next order of business for the Shockers is a league title, something they haven’t won since 2006. They can assure themselves a share of the regular-season crown with one more conference win and the outright title with two.
“In order to win a championship you must take your game to another level,” Marshall said. “In big games like that, that’s what championship-caliber teams do. We’re not champions yet, but we’ve certainly closed the gap on being able to claim a championship. We need a couple more wins.”
After facing Missouri State - last season’s MVC regular-season champion - Wichita State visits Davidson in a BracketBuster game before finishing the conference slate at Illinois State and home against Drake.
The Shockers have won 12 of 13 with their lone blemish being a triple-overtime loss at Drake on Jan. 28. They bounced back from that setback with a 74-67 victory at Missouri State (16-11, 9-6) four days later.
Garrett Stutz led Wichita State in that win with 25 points and 11 rebounds, while Smith finished with 21 points and went 5 of 9 from 3-point range.
The 7-foot Stutz, who averages a team-best 14.1 points, was limited to eight points and 13 minutes because of foul trouble against Creighton. He was averaging 21.0 points on 61.0 percent shooting in his previous six games.
Missouri State is in third place in the MVC and can’t catch the Shockers, who are 13-1 at Koch Arena, but can still finish in second. The Bears have won three in a row and are 5-2 on the road in conference play, including a 77-65 victory at then-No. 21 Creighton on Dec. 28 - their first road win over a ranked opponent in six tries.
Missouri State is coming off Sunday’s 64-53 home win over Bradley, limiting the Braves to 29.8 percent shooting. It was the second time in three games the Bears held an opponent to less than 30 percent.
Missouri State is the MVC’s top defensive team, allowing averages of 61.6 points and 39.6 percent shooting, but couldn’t slow down the Shockers two weeks ago.
Senior Kyle Weems, who averages a team-best 16.0 points, paced the Bears’ offense in that game with 21 points and was 5 of 9 from beyond the arc. Weems was limited to 11 points Sunday, his fewest in conference play, while Anthony Downing scored 16.