- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
CHICAGO -- Here's the thing about these Wichita State Shockers, the boy wonders-turned-bullies who absorbed yet another hard right Wednesday from their latest Missouri Valley Conference victim: They have stared down this remarkable unbeaten run and welcomed it like a sun-soaked day in the midst of this miserable Midwest winter, tempting fate seemingly every step of the way -- from assigning pregame jersey numbers matching their win streak to bickering over who gets to pose for magazine covers.
It's 28 games and counting now for Wichita State after an 88-74 win over Loyola of Chicago, a victory with a storyline that took a backseat to what went down earlier in the evening some 700 miles away in Central New York.
The zeroes had barely settled onto the Gentile Center scoreboards here by the time Shockers coach Gregg Marshall was over by the broadcast table, pre-empting a post-game interview by asking: "Syracuse lose? Really?"
Yes, really. Not that Marshall and his band mind the extra attention.
"It just goes to show you that you can lose to anybody any night in college basketball, home, away," Marshall said. "The other team has a coach – [I'm] assuming he has a decent salary -- and they've got 13 scholarship players, and when that ball is tossed up, they want to win."
That's all his Shockers have done since their Final Four loss to Louisville a year ago, running roughshod over any and all comers through this season's first three months.
Loyola became another two-time knockout, a human canvass for the visitors to go all Adrian Peterson (No. 28) on before they began their search for casualty (and athlete) No. 29.
"I haven't thought about that; I'm going to enjoy this one," Marshall said. "Adrian, I did a little research, and his nickname as a youngster was All Day, because he ran all day. He stuck with that nickname as an adult because he saw some tragedy in his life. He's persevered. He's overcome. His younger brother died. His father was arrested. And he said, 'All Day. I'm gonna run as hard as I can all day, because I wanna bring the pain on every play.' And that was our slogan today."
Opposing gyms are growing louder now, with fans of the Ramblers, an MVC newcomer, swelling this arena's stands beyond capacity. They tried everything from mocking Ron Baker's hair to harassing homecoming king Fred VanVleet, who excelled playing before roughly 40 familiar faces who made the two-hour trek from Rockford, Ill.
Yes, the unbeaten guests took note. And no, they weren't exactly rattled.
VanVleet gave his pocket of supporters plenty to cheer about with 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists. He made all six of his shots, all 10 of his free throws and turned the ball over just once. Darius Carter, the sixth man against Loyola, keyed an underneath attack that helped Wichita State win the battle of the boards 41-24, as it broke the game open early in the second half after entering intermission with a seven-point lead.
"Actually that helps us some, because we come out, the crowd's booing us and stuff, and that motivates us to want to shut them up," Carter said. "We go out there and play harder when they do that, so I like when the crowd sells out."
Carter finished with 13 points and five rebounds, capping a day that began with him as the odd man out on a Sports Illustrated cover that was unveiled with the headline: "Go Ahead, Try To Jinx Us."
"We had to draw straws," Marshall said.
Luck and history are working against these Shockers now, the Orange falling to Boston College and the nation's attention falling on a program seeking unprecedented heights.
Well, almost unprecedented.
This team has been playing one-and-done ball for 10 months now, Marshall reasoned. Each plateau -- be it reaching double-digit wins or setting league milestones -- has brought on new accolades that his guys keep eating up.
"Unfortunately we lost that Louisville game," he said of last year's national semifinal. "We'd be playing for the national championship."
That's one blemish this run still hasn't allowed them to shake. Another surfaced late Wednesday when VanVleet eyed his box score.
"I think the turnover they gave me was a blocked shot," the point guard corrected at the podium.
Marshall's reaction -- "Recount!"-- suggests these Shockers will get over that one just fine.