WICHITA, Kan. -- The 10,269 fans who crammed into Wichita State’s Koch Arena got a little something extra for the price of their tickets Sunday. Along with a great basketball game, they also witnessed a “welcome back” party.
The Shockers rebounded from two early-season losses and played nearly flawless basketball in an 89-70 rout of 18th-ranked UNLV. And yes, it was the same UNLV squad that whipped then-No. 1 North Carolina just eight days ago in Las Vegas.
The previously unbeaten Runnin’ Rebels hardly made a game of it against the Shockers, who got a career-high 31 points from senior guard Joe Ragland. As a team, Wichita State shot 59.3 percent from the field in improving to 5-2. UNLV is 7-1.
“I was wondering when that was going to happen,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said of his team coming together. “I was hoping it would happen. I knew it needed to happen. This was perfect timing.”
Indeed, even though it took a bit longer than most expected, Wichita State appears to have regained the moxie and cohesion it exhibited at the end of last season, when it defeated Alabama for the NIT championship.
Bigger things will be in store for the Shockers this spring if Marshall’s squad plays half as well as it did Sunday. Ragland made eight of his nine 3-point attempts, Toure Murry had a career-high eight assists and Carl Hall and Garrett Stutz were ferocious when fighting for looks down low.
The most telling statistic? How about Wichita State’s 20 assists compared to just six turnovers against a UNLV squad that’s known for its defensive pressure?
“Just a dynamite display of ball-handling and unselfish individuals on our team,” Marshall said. “It was beautiful basketball.”
If anything, Wichita’s performance should generate a ton of interest in this season’s Missouri Valley Conference race. The Shockers’ missed opportunities last month -- they lost to Alabama and Temple in Puerto Rico -- made No. 22 Creighton seem like the heavy favorite. The Bluejays are 7-0 following Sunday’s 10-point win over Nebraska.
But now things seem wide-open again thanks to the dominance Wichita State displayed Sunday against a quality opponent.
“We definitely didn’t bring our ‘A’ game,” UNLV forward Mike Moser said. “It was a real big game for them and they took advantage of it.”
The victory could definitely work in Wichita State’s favor come Selection Sunday. Out-of-conference wins against quality opponents go a long way toward determining selections and seeds. The Shockers could help themselves further by defeating Tulsa (on the road Wednesday) and Utah State (Saturday at home) before the start of league play.
“[UNLV is] a marquee team, a top-20 team,” Ragland said. “We needed a win like this on our résumé that will help us in the long run. This is what we worked for. We worked hard every day for this moment. It was good to see it all [come together]. Everyone clicked on the biggest night of the year so far.”
No Shocker turned in a better effort Sunday than Ragland, who made his first seven 3-point attempts before finally misfiring. Ragland entered the game averaging just 8.7 points.
“I didn’t expect that type of game from him,” Marshall said, “but I expect games similar, maybe 20 or 23 [points]. In practice he’s hard to guard. He makes everything just like he did tonight.”
Ragland scored 19 of his points in the decisive first half, when Wichita State used a 9-0 scoring run to break an 18-18 tie. Vegas never threatened after that. The Shockers made 17 of their 28 field goal attempts (60 percent) before intermission.
“Without question, they had more energy than us today,” first-year UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “They got everything they wanted.”
Marshall said Wichita State should gain a lot of confidence from beating such a quality opponent.
“They’ll probably be a single-digit seed in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “They’ve got the win against North Carolina that will look great on their résumé. This UNLV team had me scared.”
After Sunday, most people probably feel the same way about the Shockers.