DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Wichita State’s guards used their Final Four experience to pull out a defense-dominated First Four game on Tuesday night, leading the way to a 70-50 victory over Vanderbilt.
Fred VanVleeet — the two-time Missouri Valley player of the year — scored 14 points, and Ron Baker also had 14 as Wichita State (25-8) took control at the start of the second half and held on. The seniors were part of Wichita State’s 2013 Final Four team.
The Shockers 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 had 10 apiece.
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.
VanVleet got back into the game with 13:13 left in the half and hit a baseline jumper for his first points. Asked after the game if he would need stitches, he said, “No, I’m not a stitches guy, I don’t do needles. I’ll just butterfly (bandage) it up.”
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, and VanVleet made a pair from beyond the arc during the spurt.
Vanderbilt cut the lead to one point, but Wichita State dug in and hit back-to-back 3s that pushed it to 57-48 and left the Shockers in control.
Back in health, they’re moving on in the tournament, getting the better of a defensive game.
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.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores blocked five shots, with 7-foot-1 forward Luke Kornet swatting away two. Kornet was fourth in the nation with three blocks per game.
Wichita State: The Shockers worked on their shooting after going 2 of 24 from beyond the arc during a Missouri Valley Tournament loss to Northern Illinois. Against the Commodores, they missed all five from beyond the arc in the first half. They finished 7 of 19 overall.
Wichita State: Plays Arizona on Thursday in Providence, Rhode Island.