The line for tickets stretched outside the door of the Scottrade Center, most of them clad in gold. The Wichita State fan base had grown again, this time taking up almost the entire west end of the arena and a decent portion of those in the upper deck, where I was sitting. The pregame introductions now came with dimming the house lights, spotlights illuminating each player as they were announced. This was Semifinal Saturday. It was time to get serious.
For as great a tournament as the Missouri Valley Tournament is, dubbed Arch Madness in a delightful pun using the landmark of its host city, this year's edition had yet to be very mad. The tournament had held to seed, and the closest game had been Creighton's seven-point win over Drake in the quarterfinals. With Wichita State, the nation's 14th-ranked team, in the first semifinal, no upset was seriously expected. Illinois State had played WSU to seven at Koch in January, but the Shockers were still heavily favored.
The action came hard and fast, as Jackie Carmichael opened the scoring with a fantastic rebound dunk. The two teams traded baskets for the first five minutes, with the play getting more physical with each possession. Wichita then took off on a 14-0 run, Toure' Murry scoring six straight points and David Kyles draining a deep three.
Illinois State went more than 12 minutes without making a field goal, but was able to keep the Shocker lead from growing by driving and drawing foul upon foul. In the 12 minutes without a field goal, ISU managed to shoot 12-of-14 from the line to linger within 10 points of their opponent.
At the start of the second half, the Shockers' offense sputtered. Illinois State took advantage, and seemed to score two baskets for every one the Shockers could muster. Five minutes into the half, a three from Tyler Brown sliced the Wichita State lead to three. It would stay in the one-or-two possession game range for the next five minutes.
The physicality of the game continued to increase, and hit a peak with 12 minutes left in the second half. WSU's Garrett Stutz and ISU's John Wilkins battled heavily in the paint during a Shocker possession. Each had his arms tangled with the other's, jostling for position. After the possession ended with a missed 3-pointer, the jostling turned to outright shoving and words exchanged. The referees quickly stepped in, separated the two, and assessed the fouls. Stutz was given a common contact foul and a technical, his third and fourth fouls of the game. He would sit on the bench for the next eight minutes. Wilkins was also given a technical foul and, having received a T in the first half for harsh contact with Stutz, was ejected from the game.
Illinois State responded to the action with a scoring barrage. Carmichael put up an insanely tough layup which was converted into a three-point play, his first points since 2-0. On the next possession, Brown stepped in front of a pass and took the steal to the hoop for two. Brown hit another deep three, and that was quickly followed by Nic Moore doing the same. Illinois State had an 11-4 run, and a 56-55 lead. For the first time this weekend, Arch Madness was truly mad.
The small Illinois State student section turned to the growing mass of Creighton fans sitting behind them and encouraged them to cheer for the Redbirds, knowing Creighton would much rather have an easier opponent for the conference final. The Jays fans complied, and the crowd advantage turned against the Shockers for the first time this weekend.
The lead see-sawed for the next few minutes, and at the last media timeout the score was tied at 63. A free throw gave Wichita State the 64-63 lead, and it held at that as the last minute began to tick away.
Joe Ragland's driving layup attempt missed, and Illinois State took over with 47 seconds left. Wichita State would get one more possession, and almost took it over when Nic Moore appeared to dribble the ball off his foot and out of bounds. Referee John Higgins signaled the ball had been touched last by Toure' Murry. Illinois State retained possession and had new life. Murry, Marshall, and the mass of Wichita State faithful roared in utter rage at the call.
With their second chance, Tyler Brown drove into the paint, missed a floater, grabbed his own rebound, tried and missed again, this time the ball tipped out of bounds by a Shocker. Illinois State had a third life. Brown then drove again, this time drawing a foul on WSU's Demetric Williams with 6.4 seconds left. Brown stepped to the line and calmly sank his first free throw to tie the game at 64. After a Wichita timeout, Brown sank his second shot just as smoothly, his 25th point of the game. Illinois State held the 65-64 lead.
Wichita State quickly moved the ball down the court, and it came to Murry. His attempt from beyond the free throw line missed short, but Tyler Brown barely tipped the ball on its way out of bounds. Wichita State would have one last shot with 1.1 seconds remaining, inbounding the ball on the far sideline.
Murry quickly inbounded to Stutz who flashed to the right elbow. Stutz grabbed the pass, turned, and shot Wichita State's last attempt to prevent the biggest upset in the MVC this season.
Stutz's shot missed short as the buzzer sounded. Illinois State 65, Wichita State 64.
Tyler Brown and Bryant Allen met in an embrace in the center circle as the Redbird band played the fight song with an enthusiasm not heard before during the week, and all those not wearing the Wichita State colors stood to applaud the first upset of the tournament. Illinois State was now just one win away from their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998, but they'll have to put up almost as great a fight on Championship Sunday to get it.
ILLINOIS STATE 65, WICHITA STATE 64 03/03/2012
ILLINOIS STATE 20-12 (9-9) -- N. Moore 3-7 4-4 12; T. Brown 9-19 4-4 25; J. Ekey 1-8 0-0 3; J. Carmichael 4-10 4-4 12; B. Allen 1-6 2-2 4; J. Wilkins 1-5 5-6 8; A. Cousin 0-1 1-2 1; D. Clark 0-0 0-0 0; J. Hill 0-0 0-0 0; Z. Upshaw 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-56 20-22 65. WICHITA STATE 27-5 (16-2) -- B. Smith 4-15 4-5 14; T. Murry 6-15 3-4 15; J. Ragland 5-9 3-4 17; D. Williams 0-2 0-0 0; D. Kyles 1-8 2-2 5; G. Stutz 3-7 0-0 6; C. Hall 0-1 0-0 0; J. White 3-5 1-2 7; T. Cotton 0-1 0-0 0; E. Orukpe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-63 13-17 64.
Three-point goals: ILST 7-21 (J. Carmichael 0-1; J. Ekey 1-6; B. Allen 0-2; A. Cousin 0-1; J. Wilkins 1-2; T. Brown 3-7; N. Moore 2-2), WICH 7-23 (T. Murry 0-2; D. Kyles 1-6; D. Williams 0-2; J. Ragland 4-4; B. Smith 2-8; T. Cotton 0-1); Rebounds: ILST 34 (J. Carmichael 11), WICH 40 (B. Smith 13); Assists: ILST 6 (N. Moore 3), WICH 6 (T. Murry 2); Total Fouls -- ILST 16, WICH 21; Fouled Out: ILST-None; WICH-None.