TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Cleanthony Early and Wichita State never ran out of answers for Alabama.
Early scored 26 points and Fred VanVleet made two free throws with 11 seconds left to lift the 11th-ranked Shockers to a 72-67 victory over the Crimson Tide on Tuesday night.
Wichita State (11-0) coolly responded to every challenge from the Crimson Tide to extend the program’s best start.
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“We think that we’re going to win,” Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said. “You have to believe that you’re going to win and you’re going to make the plays. You can’t go out there with doubt and just hope. I believe these guys have that in their mind.”
Early scored nine straight points for Wichita State during one late stretch.
Rodney Cooper’s 3-pointer brought Alabama (5-5) to 65-64 with 1:57 remaining. VanVleet responded with a basket and Darius Carter scored on a putback with 37 seconds remaining on a possession when Wichita State rebounded two missed shots.
“It was just 50-50 balls,” said Releford, who hit two free throws in between those field goals. “They wanted it more down the stretch on that play. Those are plays we’ve got to get down the stretch to get over that hump.”
Alabama collected a long rebound but Retin Obasohan’s 3-pointer missed with 15 seconds left, forcing the Tide to foul.
VanVleet iced the game at the line.
Early was 7 of 11 from the field and hit all 11 free throw attempts. The Shockers were 25 of 27 from the line.
“We shoot free throws all the time and I always want a wide-open shot, and that’s a wide-open shot,” Early said. “I’ll take it.”
VanVleet and Tekele Cotton each had 11 points for Wichita State, which outrebounded Alabama 38-26. Leading scorer Ron Baker was held to eight points for the second straight game since injuring his left ankle. He got in foul trouble and played just 16 minutes, tweaking his ankle again at one point.
“I don’t know how he’s out there playing, but he is,” Marshall said. “He’s a tough, tough guy.”
Releford led Alabama with 22 points after missing the Charleston Southern game with a hip injury.
Releford also had six assists and made three 3-pointers but was scoreless in the first 14 minutes. Rodney Cooper had 14 points for Alabama.
The game marked the first time a ranked nonconference opponent had played at Coleman Coliseum since No. 5 Purdue in December 2009. The Shockers are the second-highest ranked team to visit.
They left with their second straight win over a Southeastern Conference team after beating Tennessee 70-61.
Alabama got its biggest lead, 56-53, with 6:22 left on Nick Jacobs’ dunk. Then Baker hit a 3-pointer and Early went on his nine-point binge, hitting all five free throw attempts during that stretch and also scoring on a dunk after a pass from Baker.
Cooper’s 3-pointer brought Alabama to 65-64 with 1:57 remaining.
The Tide had a chance to make it a one-score game with 8 seconds left but Obasohan missed the second of two free throws. Cotton then made a foul shot at the other end.
Alabama had sliced an early 10-point deficit to 33-32 at halftime. The Tide took its only lead of the half on Cooper’s 3-pointer with 53 seconds left. Then Cotton answered with two free throws to give the Shockers the halftime edge.
“We knew coming into the game where they were strong,” Tide coach Anthony Grant said. “Obviously rebounding the basketball. Very good defensively. I thought our guys did a good job in the first half of weathering the storm when we got down.
“In the second half, it was back and forth,” he added. “Came down to a few plays at the end. Some rebounds, some opportunities that we didn’t finish.”