OMAHA, Neb. – Three losses in eight days have Creighton on the verge of a total collapse.
With another defeat or two, a Creighton team that had been hoping to make a run in March might find itself on the outside looking in when the NCAA tournament comes.
What disturbs guard Grant Gibbs is that the Bluejays, after back-to-back road losses to Northern Iowa and Evansville, didn't play as if their season were on the line against Wichita State.
"That's the most disappointing part," Gibbs said. "After we got beat at Northern Iowa nothing changed. We came out with the same approach at Evansville. If we continue to do that, we're going to continue to get beat in this league. We've got to change that at practice tomorrow and get this thing moving forward."
Joe Ragland scored 24 points, Ben Smith matched his career high with 22 and the Valley-leading Shockers (22-4, 13-2) put two games between themselves and the Bluejays (21-5, 11-4).
Wichita State has won 12 of its last 13 games and 20 of 22, while the Bluejays have lost three straight after being ranked as high as No. 13 following a 21-2 start.
The Bluejays, who won the season's first meeting 68-61 in Wichita, were in position to win the conference's regular-season title after the Shockers were upset at Drake on Jan. 28.
But Creighton shot a combined 41 percent in the losses to Northern Iowa and Evansville and 40 percent against the Shockers.
"We're pressing a little bit on offense right now, and we're self-destructing off that," Gibbs said. "We're a tougher group of guys than that. To miss a few shots and all of a sudden we're not playing defense, we're not rebounding. We're not tough enough to suck it up if we're missing a couple shots and play our game and make other stuff happen."
The Shockers took the record "Whiteout" crowd of 18,735 out of the game by the middle of the second half. The CenturyLink Center began emptying in the last eight minutes. After the final buzzer, several Wichita State players walked off the court waving bye-bye to fans that stayed until the end.
"It's hard to win at Creighton," Smith said. "Just to get a win, it's just amazing."
The Shockers won with limited help from 7-footer Garrett Stutz, who played only 13 minutes because of foul trouble and finished with eight points. They shot 59 percent from the floor, made eight 3-pointers and hit all 17 of their free throws. Ragland and Smith combined to go 17 for 24 from the floor.
"Defensively, you have to have an answer for what they're doing if you expect to beat a team like Wichita," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "As well as they played, had we played our best, I'm not sure it would have been good enough. Wichita was really, really good, and we didn't have an answer for anything they did."
The Shockers certainly had an answer for Creighton star Doug McDermott. Smith spent most of the afternoon guarding McDermott, who had 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
"At practice, our teammates do a good job of playing like McDermott," Smith said. "We tried to go with the game plan and limit his touches and make it hard on him to catch the ball where he wants to catch it. And you've got to hope for the best."
Gregory Echenique led the Bluejays with 16 points, and Antoine Young added 11.
Wichita State led 49-36 at the break and scored on 10 straight possessions bridging the first and second halves.
"In order to win a championship you must take your game to another level," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. "In big games like that, that's what championship caliber teams do. We're not champions yet, but we've certainly closed the gap on being able to claim a championship. We need a couple more wins."
The Shockers would assure themselves a share of the MVC championship with one more win and the outright title with two. They finish conference play with Missouri State (at home), Illinois State (away) and Drake (home).