ST. LOUIS — No. 1 seed Wichita State continued its bid for perfection with a 80-58 win Friday against No. 9 seed Evansville in the MVC Tournament quarterfinals. The Shockers led by only 10 points at halftime but quickly extended their lead to 21 points early in the second half.
Evansville (14-19, 6-12 MVC), which kept close in both of its regular season meetings with the Shockers, held a 20-19 lead with 8:23 left in the first half.
Wichita State (32-0, 18-0) went ahead with a 4-point play by senior forward Cleanthony Early. Early, along with sophomore guard Ron Baker, led the Shockers with 17 points apiece.
The Aces closed the gap back to one point but never regained the lead.
A Wichita State victory was still far from a guarantee at halftime. The Shockers led 41-31 at the break, and Evansville struck first in the second stanza to pull within eight points. The Shockers then blew the game open with a 13-0 run, capped off by a 4-point play by sophomore guard Fred VanVleet.
VanVleet, who was named MVC Player of the Year earlier this week, finished with nine points, five assists and four steals.
The Shockers’ lead reached as many as 25 points with 3:55 remaining.
Wichita State smothered Evansville in the second half, as no one but Aces sophomore D.J. Balentine, who led the MVC in scoring this season, could buy a bucket.
The Shockers interior defense was impenetrable. They set a MVC Tournament record with 11 rejections, breaking the prior record of 10 set by Creighton in 1984 and Illinois State in 2009. Senior forward Kadeem Coleby set a career-high with six swatted shots.
With Coleby and senior Chadrack Lufile defending the rim, Wichita State’s guards were able to extend their pressure.
“If we do drive by them, they have a second defender down there,” Balentine said. “It’s kind of like what [sophomore center] Egidijus [Mockevicius] does for us, but they have two or three guys down there.”
Despite only appearing in two games and his team’s early elimination, Balentine made a strong case for the All-Tournament team. He finished with 31 points on 10-of-21 shooting, and seven of his makes came from 3-point range.
Wichita State continues to make national headlines with their perfect record. They are the first team since UNLV in 1991-92 to reach 32-0. Wichita State head coach Marshall said the team’s ability to stay focused on the task at hand has allowed them to win one game after the other.
“They’re very stoic, very matter of fact, very steadfast in what they want to accomplish,” Marshall said. “I don’t think [media attention] has affected them that much at all.”
But for now, the Shockers are more focused on winning this tournament than worrying about their undefeated record.
“Our new streak is 1-0,” VanVleet said.