Tuesday’s roundup: Wichita State, Florida Gulf Coast win play-in games
Dayton, Ohio — Wichita State’s guards let their Final Four experience make the difference in a defense-dominated First Four game.
Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker led a surge at the start of the second half that put the Shockers on pace for a 70-50 victory over Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, making the big shots in a game with very few uncontested ones.
The seniors who were part of the Shockers’ 2013 Final Four team led the way. VanVleeet — the two-time Missouri Valley player of the year — scored 14 points despite a cut on his head that sent him to the bench in the first half. Ron Baker also had 14. Together, they scored all of the points in a decisive 11-0 run that opened the second half.
“Fred and I hit a couple of 3s to get us going early on,” Baker said. “The momentum shifted slowly and we kind of grasped it and kept on rolling.”
The Shockers (25-8) play Arizona on Thursday in Providence, Rhode Island.
Vanderbilt (19-14) couldn’t take advantage of its pronounced size advantage on offense and never led in the second half. Joe Toye and Riley LaChance scored 10 each. The Commodores shot 30 percent from the field, went 3 of 19 from beyond the arc, and were 15 of 26 on free throws.
“They’re a very good defense and they play really physical,” LaChance said. “We did get some open looks and nothing happened to fall.”
The Shockers returned three starters from the team that knocked off Indiana and Kansas to reach the Sweet 16 last year, drawing a No. 10 ranking in the preseason poll. A lot of early injuries — including VanVleet’s pulled hamstring — forced the Shockers to reinvent themselves.
They got yet another setback on Tuesday when VanVleet left to get treated for a cut on the right side of his forehead only a few minutes into the game. He gave the Shockers a pep talk during the next timeout but stayed on the bench.
“It didn’t hurt at all,” said VanVleet, who had a bandage on the wound. “I didn’t even know it was bleeding. I was just hoping it wouldn’t need stitches. I hate to get stitched. He patched me up real quick.”
VanVleet got back into the game with 13:13 left in the half and hit a baseline jumper for his first points.
He and Baker let their tournament experience show at the start of the second half, scoring all the points in an 11-0 run for a 41-30 lead — the biggest by either team up to that point. Baker hit a 3-pointer, and VanVleet made a pair from beyond the arc during the spurt.
There were few open shots in a choppy first half that ended tied 30-30 — about what was expected. Wichita State and Vanderbilt ranked sixth and seventh in field-goal defense. The Shockers get pressure with their guards, while the Commodores used their front-line size to redirect shots.
Seven-foot center Damian Jones missed both of his shots and all of his four free throws in the first half as Vanderbilt failed to take advantage of its size on offense. He finished with five points.
Florida Gulf Coast 96, Fairleigh Dickinson 65: Marc-Eddy Norelia scored 20 points and Florida Gulf Coast coasted over an overmatched Fairleigh Dickinson in a First Four game. Norelia opened the game with a dunk and the Eagles (21-13) never relinquished the lead, going on a 23-6 run in the first 10 minutes and opening a 40-19 lead at the half. Fairleigh Dickinson got some looks but couldn’t get much to fall, shooting just 33 percent from the field while playing thoroughly lackluster defense throughout.
Julian Debose and Christian Terrell both added 14 for the Eagles, and Demetris Morant added 10. After Norelia’s opening slam, Brian Greene Jr. closed the scoring with a dunk for FGCU.
Earl Potts Jr. led Fairleigh Dickinson (18-15) with 16 points despite sitting a good chunk of the second half with four fouls. Marques Townes added 13.