DAYTON, OHIO – Wichita State’s guards let their Final Four experience make the difference in a defense-dominated First Four game.
Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker led a surge at the start of the second half that put the Shockers on pace for a 70-50 victory over Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, making the big shots in a game with very few uncontested ones.
The seniors who were part of the Shockers’ 2013 Final Four run led the way. VanVleeet — the two-time Missouri Valley player of the year — scored 14 points despite a cut on his head that sent him to the bench in the first half. Baker also had 14. Together, they scored all of the points in a decisive 11-0 run that opened the second half.
“Fred and I hit a couple of 3s to get us going early on,” Baker said. “The momentum shifted slowly and we kind of grasped it and kept on rolling.”
The Shockers (25-8) 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 Commodores shot 30 percent from the field, went 3 of 19 from beyond the arc, and were 15 of 26 on free throws.
“They’re a very good defense and they play really physical,” LaChance said. “We did get some open looks and nothing happened to fall.”
Florida Gulf Coast 96, Fairleigh Dickinson 65: In Dayton, Ohio, Florida Gulf Coast showed once again that it can rise to the occasion in the NCAA Tournament.
It wasn’t the same “Dunk City” gang that captured the nation’s attention during an improbable Sweet 16 run in 2013, but the Eagles controlled the boards and blew past overmatched Fairleigh Dickinson 96-65 in their First Four game.
Marc-Eddy Norelia opened the game with a dunk, two of his 20 points on the night to lead the Eagles (21-13). FGCU never relinquished the lead.
Fairleigh Dickinson got some looks but couldn’t get much to fall, shooting just 33 percent from the field while playing thoroughly lackluster defense. It was one of the team’s worst shooting performances of the season.
Florida Gulf Coast relied on outmuscling its opponent’s big men inside and controlling the boards, while making 60 percent of its shots from the field.
“That’s what got us here,” Norelia said of the inside game. “Coach made the game plan and said we’re going to do what we’ve been doing, and it worked for us.”