Wichita St.-Evansville Preview

While coach Gregg Marshall doesn’t expect Wichita State to play perfectly, he can’t be faulted for hoping its record stays that way thanks to a seemingly favorable schedule.

The No. 4 Shockers look to become the first team in almost a decade to start 27-0 when they go for another win over Evansville on Sunday.

Wichita State (26-0, 13-0 Missouri Valley) used a strong second half to rally for a 78-67 win over Southern Illinois on Tuesday – the ninth time this season it needed to overcome a halftime deficit.

"That’s been the theme, you know, whether we’re up, down, tied. This team just somehow finds a way," Marshall said. "You’re not going to play the perfect game every time."

The Shockers are now in position to become the first team to win its first 27 games since Illinois opened 29-0 in 2004-05. They appear to have a strong chance to surpass that mark before hosting Missouri State in the regular-season finale March 1.

Each of the team’s next four opponents – Evansville (11-15, 4-9), Loyola of Chicago, Drake and Bradley – currently hold losing records, and the Shockers have beaten each of them already this season.

Wichita State overcame an early 15-point deficit to beat the Aces 81-67 on Feb. 1. However, the Shockers fell 71-67 in their most recent visit to Evansville on Jan. 13, 2013, becoming the third straight ranked team to lose there.

They’re motivated to avoid a similar fate.

"At this point, you have to learn from winning, which is tough for a lot of teams," guard Ron Baker said. "For us, we haven’t had a chance to learn from losing. We don’t want to, either."

Baker was given a lesson Tuesday when Marshall got in his face on the sideline after he passed up open looks while trying to make a highlight-reel play. The sophomore hit a trio of 3-pointers in the second half and finished with a team-high 19 points and five assists, overcoming a career-worst five turnovers.

"I told Ron that for whatever reason, I think he’s going at least one dribble too far at times," Marshall said. "He’s trying to make a spectacular play or a spectacular pass, but he’s open off ball screens. Shoot the basketball! That’s what you do. You’re not Magic Johnson, not yet. Just shoot the ball instead of trying to make these home-run plays."

Baker had 14 points against Evansville despite missing 7 of 8 from long range.

Fred VanVleet also scored 14 in that matchup. The sophomore guard may be looking for a similar effort after matching his season low with three points against the Salukis.

The Aces are trying to win back-to-back games for the first time since opening the season with a five-game winning streak.

They squandered a 25-point second-half lead before emerging with a 104-98 overtime win against Illinois State on Wednesday, snapping a season-high four-game skid.

D.J. Balentine leads the conference with an average of 23.2 points, and ranks third while sinking 40.8 percent from beyond the arc. The sophomore guard, who is the only member of the team averaging double digits, was one of three Wednesday with 38 points to go with six rebounds and five assists.

Balentine scored 26 on 11-of-21 shooting against Wichita State, but none of his teammates managed more than eight points or three baskets.

"They play so hard and they’re so active and they have so many good pieces," Aces coach Marty Simmons said of the Shockers.