No. 2 Wichita State improves to 32-0 after beating Evansville
ST. LOUIS — No. 2 Wichita State is still perfect. Calm and collected, too, in a 32nd straight win.
The top-seeded Shockers stayed unbeaten with an 80-58 romp over Evansville in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley tournament Friday.
"I love how this team goes about their business, their approach and how resolute they are," coach Gregg Marshall said. "They’re really, really focused and locked in to the next challenge, and that’s how you win 32 in a row."
If they’re feeling pressure because of the streak, their opponents never noticed.
"Fantastic to see what they’re doing," Evansville guard D.J. Balentine said after scoring 31 points. "If people say they don’t deserve a No. 1 seed, that’s silly."
Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker scored 17 points apiece and Wichita State set a tournament record with 11 blocked shots, shot 51 percent and held Evansville to 37 percent.
"Got to have some erasers back there," point guard Fred VanVleet said.
It was intimidating on both ends, with everyone sharing in the success and no one taking more than 11 shots. Just how Marshall drew it up.
"This team is very unselfish," Baker said. "If we continue to play like that, I like our chances."
Balentine made seven 3-pointers for ninth-seeded Evansville (14-19), which lost twice by an average of 15 points to Wichita State (32-0) in the regular season. The Purple Aces led 20-19 midway through the first half before Wichita State started pulling away.
"It’s hard for us to just make passes from A to B," coach Marty Simmons said. "They play hard. They challenge every catch. Their intensity is outstanding."
Kadeem Coleby had six of the blocks for the Shockers, who are two victories shy of matching the NCAA record of 34 wins to start a season by UNLV in 1990-91. UNLV was perfect before losing in the NCAA semifinals to Duke that season.
Wichita State beat every Valley school twice in the regular season and takes on the Missouri State-Illinois State winner in the semifinals Saturday. Missouri State has come the closest to beating the Shockers, losing by three in overtime at home in January after blowing a 19-point lead.
This is rarified air for the Shockers, who haven’t been ranked this high since 1981, when they were also No. 2. They went to the Final Four last year as a No. 9 seed and are two wins away from a first Valley title since 1987 and a likely No. 1 seed.
"They’re disciplined in everything they do," Simmons said. "They’re well-schooled. They’re well-taught. They don’t beat themselves."
Balentine was 7 for 14 from 3-point range, falling one short of the school record while slowed at the finish by a hip injury. He led the Valley with a 22.5-point average and scored 30 points in the play-in game victory over eighth-seeded Drake on Thursday.
"I thought once we got Balentine to miss a couple shots, we were in much better shape," Marshall said. "He was incredible."
Egidiju Mockevicius added 11 points and 11 rebounds for Evansville.
Early had a four-point play and a three-point play and ran down Blake Simmons to swat away a layup late in the first half. Baker had five points in a 17-5 run that made it 40-27 with 1:34 left in the first half.
"We don’t get any foul calls in practice," Early said. "It’s like I’m trying to make the basket regardless because I feel like I might not get the foul call."
The Shockers were just as relentless in the second half. A 15-5 run put them up 20 points with just under 12 minutes to go.
Baker was 4 for 6 from 3-point range and Tekele Cotton was 3 for 5. VanVleet, the Valley Player of the Year, had nine points, five assists and four steals. Chadrack Lufile had 11 points and seven rebounds, and Early added six rebounds and two blocks.
"I don’t tell good players to pass on good shots," Marshall said. "When it’s your turn to shoot and you’re open, I want you to shoot it, and, in fact, I get upset with them when they don’t.
"I think they’ve got character, for sure."