Wichita State hands Creighton third straight loss

OMAHA, Neb. -- The Missouri Valley Conference isn't just Creighton and everybody else. Wichita State made that abundantly clear Saturday.

Joe Ragland scored 24 points, Ben Smith matched his career high with 22 and the Shockers moved a step closer to the Valley's regular-season championship with an 89-68 victory over Creighton (No. 15 ESPN/USA Today, No. 17 AP).

"Maybe we'll get some press now," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. "We've gotten some but we haven't gotten nearly the amount of it that the Creighton team has. The way they played early in the year they deserved it. But maybe these guys will get some. I haven't been around a group more mentally tough. It takes physical and mental toughness to do what they do on the road. It was exemplified today, times 100."

Wichita State (22-4, 13-2) has won 12 of its last 13 games and 20 of 22, while the slumping Bluejays (21-5, 11-4) have lost three straight.

The Shockers took the record "Whiteout" crowd of 18,735 out of the game by the middle of the second half. The building began emptying in the last eight minutes. After the final buzzer, several Wichita State players walked off the court waving bye-bye to the fans that remained until the end.

"It's hard to win at Creighton," Smith said. "Just to get a win, it's just amazing."

The Shockers won with limited help from 7-footer Garrett Stutz, who played only 13 minutes because of foul trouble and finished with eight points. They shot 59 percent from the floor, made eight 3-pointers and hit all 17 of their free throws. Ragland and Smith combined to go 17 for 24 from the floor.

"Defensively, you have to have an answer for what they're doing if you expect to beat a team like Wichita," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "As well as they played, had we played our best, I'm not sure it would have been good enough. Wichita was really, really good, and we didn't have an answer for anything they did."

The Shockers certainly had an answer for Creighton star Doug McDermott. Smith spent most of the afternoon guarding McDermott, who had 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting.

"At practice, our teammates do a good job of playing like McDermott," Smith said. "We tried to go with the game plan and limit his touches and make it hard on him to catch the ball where he wants to catch it. And you've got to hope for the best."

Gregory Echenique led the Bluejays with 16 points, and Antoine Young added 11.

Wichita State led 49-36 at the break and scored on 10 straight possessions bridging the first and second halves.

"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."

The Shockers would assure themselves a share of the MVC championship with one more win and the outright title with two. They finish conference play with Missouri State (at home), Illinois State (away) and Drake (home).

Creighton had overcome double-digit deficits to beat Wichita State six times since 2003. That wasn't going to happen Saturday even though Stutz was on the bench with two fouls for about the last nine minutes of the first half.

Stutz, averaging 21 points over the previous seven games, helped the Shockers stay in front after they took the lead with an early 11-0 run. He came into the game 4 for 20 from 3-point range this season but stepped behind the arc unchallenged and made two in the first 11 minutes.

The Shockers led by five points when he went to the bench with 8:50 left in the half. The bulge grew to 10 before Creighton cut it in half, but Wichita State scored 16 of the last 24 points of the half, with Smith's 3 extending his team's lead to 13.

The Bluejays, who won the season's first meeting 68-61 in Wichita, were in position to win the conference's regular-season title after the Shockers were upset at Drake on Jan. 28.

But Creighton slipped into second place after back-to-back road losses to Northern Iowa and Evansville in which it shot a combined 41 percent. The Bluejays shot 40 percent against the Shockers.

Saturday's loss will likely cost the Bluejays their spot in the Top 25 and, for a team that had hopes of making a run in March, likely damage their NCAA tournament seeding. A loss or two the rest of the way actually could leave them needing to win the conference tournament to get into the NCAAs.

"We've got to regroup. No doubt about that," Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said. "We've got to get back to playing defense. Our effort has to be a lot better. We have to stay together as a group. I could name a million things. It starts with caring more and playing better."