ST. LOUIS — Allowing a 15-0 lead to slip away before halftime would be deflating for most teams, but not the Missouri Valley Conference's top defensive team.
The Wichita State Shockers dialed up their defense once again in the second half and beat the Illinois State Redbirds 66-51 Saturday in the semifinals of the MVC Tournament.
The Shockers held the Redbirds to a season-low point total and a season-low shooting percentage (29 percent).
"This is a defensive effort that can get you to a championship game, and hopefully help you win it," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said.
The Shockers (26-7) advance to the title game where they'll go against the top-seeded Creighton Bluejays (26-7) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Scottrade Center.
The two teams split during the regular season with each team holding serve on its home court.
This could be the Bluejays' final appearance in the MVC Tournament as rumors swirl about them leaving the conference, but Marshall said the Shockers also have a compelling storyline since they've never won the tourney in St. Louis.
"We're going to try to cut down nets. They're going to try to cut down nets making an exit," Marshall said. "I'd rather them being a little sad leaving than all jacked up leaving. It's going to make for great drama, great TV. They're a wonderful offensive team."
There were 18,262 fans at the semifinal games Saturday, the second largest semifinal crowd in the tourney's history.
The largest semifinal crowd was the 22,612 fans who turned out to see Southern Illinois University Carbondale vs. Bradley and Creighton vs. Missouri State in 2007.
The Redbirds (18-15) lost to Wichita State for the third time this season. The Shockers are the only MVC team that the Redbirds didn't beat this season.
"It just wasn't our day," Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. "We missed some shots that we normally make. They're very good defensively. They did hurt us on the boards. We didn't play great today, and they took advantage of it."
The Redbirds must wait to see if they get a bid to a postseason tournament.
"I would love to still be in a Redbird jersey in late March," said senior Jackie Carmichael, who paced the Redbirds with 22 points. "I just want to continue playing with these guys. I am hoping that it is not over, but at this point we just have to wait and see."
Carl Hall had 16 points and eight rebounds and Malcolm Armstead had 15 points and nine rebounds to lead Wichita State.
John Wilkins and Tyler Brown added nine points apiece for the Shockers.
The Redbirds missed their first eight shots, committed three turnovers and got outrebounded 11-3 as they fell behind 15-0.
Six minutes and 17 seconds went off the clock before Carmichael got the Redbirds on the scoreboard with a free throw.
It would be more than 12 1/2 minutes into the game before the Redbirds got their first field goal thanks to a steal and a layup by Tyler Brown with 7:25 left in the first half.
The Shockers were up 22-8 at that point, but the Redbirds would roar ahead 24-23 on a jumper by Carmichael with 30 seconds remaining in the first half.
Fred VanVleet hit a long 3-pointer with six seconds on the clock to give the Shockers a 26-24 lead at the half.
"I was just telling the guys to stay focused and keep after it on defense, and good things will happen," Armstead said of the mood at halftime in the Shockers' locker room.
The Redbirds regained the lead on a 3 by Brown at the start of the second half, but Hall scored eight points over the next four minutes as the Shockers went up 36-33.
The Redbirds managed only one free throw over the next 3 1/2 minutes as the Shockers extended their lead to 45-34 with 12:28 left to play.
The Shockers stretched their margin to 17 points with three minutes to play, and the Redbirds got no closer than 12 from then to the final horn.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.