BY ANDREW SELIGMAN
No. 15 Wichita State was facing a tough challenge from Loyola, and then the second half started.
Tekele Cotton scored all but two of his 16 points and hit four 3-pointers over the final 20 minutes, and the Shockers pulled away for a 67-53 victory over Loyola on Sunday.
Ron Baker scored 15. Fred VanVleet hit all five of his shots in a 14-point effort and matched a career-high with 10 assists.
The Shockers (14-2, 4-0 Missouri Valley Conference) took control in the second half, outscoring the Ramblers (12-4, 2-2) 44-25 after trailing by five at the break to pick up their 22nd straight league win.
“I think we’re starting to click a little bit more now,” VanVleet said. “Guys usually start hitting their stride around this time. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
Earl Peterson led Loyola with 13 points and Devon Turk scored 11. The emerging Ramblers hit 10 of 18 3-pointers but simply came up short against the league’s powerhouse.
Loyola has already eclipsed last season’s win total of 10 and is threatening to reach the postseason for the first time in three decades. A win over Wichita State certainly would have strengthened its case, but the Shockers wasted no time taking the lead in the second half.
“There’s never been a team that understands 40 minutes more than them,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “They had no panic in them at all.”
Wichita State opened the second half on an 18-3 run, scoring the first 10 points to wipe out a 28-23 deficit.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Cotton made it 33-28, and a fast-break layup by VanVleet after he stole the inbounds put the lead at 41-31 with about 12:30 left.
It stayed in that range until the closing minutes.
Peterson banked in a half-court heave at the shot-clock buzzer to pull Loyola to 53-45 with just over 4 minutes left. But Cotton hit back-to-back 3s to start a 10-2 run for Wichita State.
Loyola had the near-capacity crowd rocking thanks to a 10-point run over the final 2:36 of the first half that turned a five-point deficit into a five-point lead.
Milton Doyle drove for a three-point play to start the spurt and followed that with a spin around Darius Carter for a neat layup.
Peterson added a 3-pointer. And with the crowd chanting “L-U-C!” he nailed a jumper off the dribble in the closing seconds to send the Ramblers to the locker room with a five-point lead.
“This is a team that’s probably going to finish top half (of the league), maybe better, and they weren’t predicted to do that,” Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said. “I think Coach Porter Moser and (assistant) Daniyal Robinson and those guys did a wonderful job recruiting to replace the guys that they lost. No matter where you play Loyola this year, it’s gonna be a dogfight.”
ON TARGET AGAIN
The way VanVleet seems to own this court, maybe Moser was on to something.
“I think VanVleet should name this arena after himself,” he suggested.
VanVleet is a combined 11 for 11 from the field and 13 of 14 on free throws with 36 points the past two games at Gentile Arena. He made all six shots and 10 free throws while scoring 22 last year.
“Maybe I need to play here every game,” VanVleet said.
Marshall squashed that idea, saying, “You can’t transfer. You’d have to sit out two years.”
Wichita State: Wichita State’s 22-game MVC win streak ties Southern Illinois (February 2003-March 2004) for the longest by a current conference member.
Loyola: The most recent win over a ranked team was at Butler on Feb. 15, 2009. It has not beaten a Top 25 team at home since an 83-82 victory over No. 9 Illinois on Dec. 27, 1986.
Wichita State: hosts Southern Illinois on Wednesday.
Loyola: hosts Drake on Wednesday.