ST. LOUIS — Wichita State showcased its defensive might Saturday in making it to the championship game of the Missouri Valley tournament.
The Shockers held Illinois State to 29.1 percent shooting and bounced back from a first-half meltdown in posting a 66-51 victory in the second semifinal at the Scottrade Center.
Wichita State (26-7) will try to win its first championship since the tournament moved here when it squares off against Creighton in Sunday’s 1 p.m. title game.
“We’re going to try to cut down nets,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “They’re going to try to cut down nets. I’d rather them be a little sad leaving than all jacked up leaving.”
Marshall was referring to speculation that the Bluejays are moving to the Big East next season.
“It’s going to make for great drama, great TV,” Marshall said. “They’re a wonderful offensive team. Last week, we give up 91 to them. That’s how good they can be.”
Creighton won the regular-season championship with a 91-79 victory eight days ago in Omaha. The Shockers won the first meeting in mid-January by squeezing out a 67-64 win.
The winner of the rubber match will claim the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
“We came here to accomplish one of our goals for the season, to win the whole thing,” Wichita State guard Tekele Cotton said. “Take one game at a time. This was one game. Now we go on to the next game.”
Cotton helped spearhead the Shockers’ defensive effort that shut down Illinois State’s Tyler Brown, who had averaged more than 25 points in his past nine games. Brown scored just nine points, missing 9 of 12 shots from the field.
Wichita State held Illinois State without a field goal for the first 12½ minutes, jumping out to a 17-1 lead before the Redbirds rallied by switching to a zone defense. Illinois State used an 18-1 run to take a 24-23 lead with 33 seconds to play in the first half.
Fred VanVleet’s 3-pointer pushed the Shockers back in front by two points in the half. Brown made his only 3-point basket to open the second half, but that would be Illinois State’s last lead.
The Shockers built their lead back to double digits with 12:33 to play on another VanVleet 3-point basket, and the Redbirds never got closer than eight points after that.