Loyola Marymount-Wichita St. Preview
Six days after rallying for a dramatic home win, No. 11 Wichita State seeks its fifth straight victory Monday night when it takes on Evan Payne and Loyola Marymount in the opener of the Diamondhead Classic.
The Shockers (8-1) are going after their third consecutive in-season tournament title after winning the 2012 Cancun Challenge and the CBE Classic last season. The Shockers will face Nebraska or Hawaii in the second game of the eight-team event.
They'll be looking for a better performance offensively after shooting 41.1 percent from the field - including 14 for 46 (30.4) from 3-point range - in their last two games. They've also made 56.9 percent from the free-throw line over their past three, shooting a season-worst 8 for 17 in Tuesday's 53-52 win over Alabama.
Trailing the Crimson Tide by 11 points with 5:50 remaining, Wichita State closed the game on a 13-1 run and took the lead on Darius Carter's dunk with 11.9 seconds left to secure a school-record 23rd straight home win.
Carter has been a bright spot, averaging 16.7 points and 9.7 rebounds while shooting 61.8 percent in his last three games. However, he's gone just 7 for 17 from the foul line during that stretch.
Ron Baker is averaging a team-high 18.0 points, but he's 11 for 30 from the field in the past two games. Fellow Preseason All-American Fred VanVleet failed to score in double figures Tuesday for only the third time in his nine.
The Shockers have overcome their offensive struggles primarily because of their effort on the defensive end. They held Alabama scoreless on seven straight possessions during their late comeback, forcing four turnovers.
Wichita State's opponents have the 12th worst assist-to-turnover ratio nationally at 0.61. The Shockers, winners in 40 of 41 versus unranked nonconference foes, will now try to lock down Loyola Marymount's Payne.
The sophomore guard ranks among the country's top 15 scorers at 21.7 per game. After he had a career-high 32 against Northern Arizona on Dec. 13, he'll look to bounce back from a 14-point effort in Wednesday's 67-58 loss at Stanford.
Payne hasn't had much help from the rest of the Lions (3-6). Reserve guard Matt Hayes is the team's second-leading scorer at 8.6 per game, and he's shot 27.0 percent from the floor during the team's four-game losing streak.
Loyola Marymount will certainly have to take better care of the basketball against the Shockers after averaging 16.3 turnovers while playing its last three away from home.
"We play tough people, and we're going on the road," coach Mike Dunlap said. "So for a young team - we often play four freshmen and a sophomore on the floor - it can't do anything but help us, as long as our morale stays high."
In the only meeting between the schools, Loyola Marymount lost 75-73 in Wichita on Dec. 2, 1983. The Lions have won their last two versus nonconference ranked opponents, beating UCLA and Saint Louis in November 2011.