Seniors Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet helped Wichita State reach a Final Four as freshmen, post an undefeated regular season as sophomores and get to the Sweet 16 as juniors. As seniors, they ensured the Shockers’ season would continue on Tuesday when they scored all 11 of their team’s points to start the second half, breaking a 30–30 halftime tie and giving Wichita State a lead it would not relinquish en route to a First Four win over Vanderbilt in Dayton. Baker and VanVleet each finished with 14 points.
Why it matters
The Shockers had to sweat out a week on the bubble after losing in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament semifinals to Northern Iowa on March 5, and some felt they didn’t belong in the field. But by dominating the second half against Vandy, they showed they’re a threat for another deep March run. After the Commodores got within two at 50–48 with 8:20 remaining, Wichita State hit three three-pointers to spark a game-ending 20–2 run. For Vanderbilt, a season that began with a No. 18 ranking in the AP poll ended with a disappointing 19–13 record. Guard Wade Baldwin IV and center Damian Jones, both of whom are possible first-round NBA draft picks this June, combined for just 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting for the Commodores.
The Shockers move on to a first round matchup with No. 6 seed Arizona on Thursday in Providence. The two teams did not meet this season but Wichita State went 1–1 against Pac-12 schools in non-conference play, losing to USC without VanVleet, who missed the game due to ankle and hamstring injuries, and beating Utah by 17.