Colt Ryan lit up Wichita State for 29 points, but it was the shot he denied the Shockers that might have ruined their Senior Night on Wednesday.
WSU's Malcolm Armstead tried to draw a foul on a 3-point attempt in the waning seconds. He didn't get it, and he didn’t make the shot, but the ball went out on Evansville. That gave the Shockers possession, down 59-56 with 4.7 seconds remaining.
"I thought we had just lost an opportunity to seal the deal," said Ryan, an all-Missouri Valley Conference senior guard for the Purple Aces.
Ryan was guarding WSU's Tekele Cotton, and had a hunch the Shockers were calling a play for him. When Shocker forward Carl Hall tried to pass to Cotton, Ryan did everything he could to deny it.
And that's how Hall ended up taking only his second 3-point attempt all season. He put it up from the right corner, and it clanked around the rim as the final buzzer sounded. Evansville walked away with the three-point victory, sweeping WSU in the season series, and the Shockers lost a home game for just the second time this season.
"It was designed for Tekele to come off and shoot a 3 in the corner," Hall said. "It broke down, the dude (Ryan) kind of denied him, so I had to take the shot."
WSU coach Gregg Marshall said he originally wanted the last shot to be taken by Nick Wiggins, but wasn't comfortable that the junior guard would be able to get a clean look against a physical Evansville team.
Marshall said he thought Cotton was actually open for a second.
"I don't know what Tekele was doing," Marshall said. "We don't normally run it for Tekele, in his defense. It took him longer than it needed to (to receive the pass). ... We couldn't get free. So Carl ended up having to take the shot. That's the play I called, and it wasn't very successful."
Hall thought the shot looked good leaving his hand, though. So did Ryan.
"If he makes that shot, we have to live with it and go into overtime," Ryan said. "And that would have been tough, with them getting all the momentum and having the hometown crowd. We were thankful to pull out a great win."
The Shockers (24-6, 12-5 in the Missouri Valley Conference) had a five-game winning streak snapped despite out-rebounding Evansville 42-23. The Purple Aces (17-13, 9-8) led the entire first half after shooting 56 percent and making 7 of 10 3-pointers before halftime.
"They were on fire in the first half," Marshall said, "and we weren't doing enough to break their rhythm."
Evansville cooled off in the second half, and even allowed WSU to take a four-point lead with eight minutes remaining, but maintained remarkable composure.
"We knew we couldn"t let the crowd be a factor in this game," Ryan said. "We took care of the ball and tried to control the tempo. They're an extremely athletic team. We had to make shots and guard them."
Meanwhile, Colt was giving the Shockers fits. He scored 18 in the first half, and ending up making 10 of 18 shots from the field and all six free throw attempts.
"When you have a team that plays that hard, and runs their offense like that, and they get going early, it's hard to stop," Hall said. "You won't find many teams that make shots on nights like this. They just had it going. Colt Ryan had it going ... We know what kind of player Colt Ryan is. We know he can go on for 40 if you allow him to."
As a matter of fact, Ryan lit up Creighton for 43 points in a road game last season. He played 39 minutes on Wednesday, which is only slightly more than his season average.
"I thought he was outstanding," Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. "He's asked to do a lot out there, and he played as well as any game he's probably ever played at Evansville."
Ryan was the only Purple Ace in double figures. Cotton led WSU with 12 points, while Cleanthony Early scored 10 and Hall added nine.
No time for tears - Marshall had trouble remembering a time any of his teams had lost a game on Senior Night. He said it may have happened once before.
"It's tough for the seniors," Marshall said. "Their families are here and they've been great ambassadors and representatives of our program. This loss does not deter that."
Hall, one of four seniors on WSU's roster, said he's not ready to reflect back on his time as a Shocker yet.
"We've just got to get ready for Saturday," he said.
WSU can still win the Valley title (and #1 seed in the conference tournament) with a road victory over Creighton this weekend. With Northern Iowa also losing on Wednesday night, the Shockers have clinched at least the #2 seed for th tournament.