Wichita St.-Evansville Preview
Wichita State has easily handled all of its Missouri Valley Conference rivals this season except for Evansville.
The No. 22 Shockers will seek a more decisive result while attempting to spoil the Purple Aces' perfect home record Sunday and push coach Gregg Marshall into a tie for the school wins record.
Wichita State (15-5, 9-0) has won its conference games by an average of 21.1 points following an 80-54 rout of Loyola of Chicago on Wednesday.
The only conference game they didn't win by at least 16 points was a 67-64 home victory over Evansville on Jan. 6. The Aces never trailed by more than nine and rallied to tie the game with 3:32 to play but couldn't get a lead in the second half. Missouri Valley leading scorer D.J. Balentine turned it over in the waning seconds before getting off a potential game-tying shot.
"I think we both showed why we were (voted) No. 1 and 2 in the preseason (MVC poll)," Shockers senior Fred VanVleet said.
VanVleet and Anton Grady both made key layups in the final three minutes after Evansville had pulled within one. Grady scored 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting and had a team-best seven rebounds. VanVleet was the only starter in double figures with 16 points and had a season-high nine assists.
Ron Baker was held to nine points - well below his team-leading average of 14.7 - while missing seven of 10 shots. Still, he's averaging 17.0 points in Wichita's six-game winning streak in the series.
The Aces (18-4, 7-2) are tied for second place in the MVC with Southern Illinois, two games behind the Shockers. With a matchup against the Salukis at home Wednesday, Wichita State has a prime chance to build some cushion atop the conference.
The Shockers can also push Marshall past Ralph Miller's school record of 220 victories by winning the next two games.
"That would be wonderful. It would be an honor because I know how well thought of (Miller) is," Marshall said. "He's the only non-player that's hanging in the rafters at (Koch Arena)."
Wichita has won its four conference road games by an average of 21.7 points and its past two at Evansville by an average of 18.0. In last season's visit, the Shockers held the Aces to their fewest points in the past eight seasons in a 61-41 victory.
The Aces are 11-0 at home this season and have won 14 straight at the Ford Center. They're among the nation's top shooting teams at 52.1 percent from the field.
They shot 55.4 percent against Southern Illinois on Thursday but needed overtime for an 85-78 victory. Mislav Brzoja scored a career-high 25 points and Balentine matched that output.
Balentine, averaging 21.3 points, had a season-low 14 on 6-of-17 shooting with five turnovers at Wichita. Jaylon Brown scored 18 points, one shy of his career high, to begin his current streak of seven straight games in double figures.
"Fred was told going into the game to help off of (Brown) a little more," Marshall said after the win. "We're going to have to adjust that scouting report."
However, Marshall's team did a solid job defensively on Egidijus Mockevicius, who was held to nine points but grabbed 16 rebounds. The senior center leads the nation with 14.2 boards per game while averaging 16.7 points.