After rolling through the regular season unblemished No. 2 Wichita State began its next quest: to win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament for the first time since 1987, back before the event was dubbed “Arch Madness.” The first challenge came in the form of the Evansville Purple Aces, who went 6-12 in conference play but possess a star in the making in sophomore guard D.J. Balentine.
Balentine would perform well, scoring 31 points on 10-for-21 shooting, but the Shockers proved to be entirely too much for the Purple Aces. Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early scored 17 points apiece and two other Wichita State players scored in double figures as the Shockers moved to 32-0 with an 80-58 victory. Next up for Wichita State is the winner of Missouri State/Illinois State in Saturday’s semifinals.
The problem for Evansville was a simple one: they didn’t have enough horses to compete with one of the nation’s best teams. Egidiju Mockevicius added 11 points and 11 rebounds, but Aces other than Balentine combined to shoot 11-for-36 (30.6%) from the field. The Shockers are one of the nation’s best defensive teams and against Evansville Gregg Marshall’s team did little to dispel that notion, blocking 11 shots and converting 12 Evansville turnovers into 17 points.
And offensively Wichita State was efficient, shooting 50.9% from the field and 10-for-21 from deep and committing just nine turnovers. The only issue was their foul shooting, as the Shockers shot 14-for-25 from the charity stripe. This is a group with multiple options, from Baker and Early to MVC Player of the Year Fred VanVleet and MVC Defensive Player of the Year Tekele Cotton, and this combined with their rarely taking bad shots makes them a difficult team to defend.
The biggest question mark may be their interior scoring, but the Shockers have done a very good job of accounting for the graduation of Carl Hall all season long. Wichita State’s attacked this by committee and against Evansville that was once again the case, with Chadrack Lufile contributing 11 points and seven rebounds off the bench and Kadeem Coleby adding six points, four rebounds and six blocked shots.
Neither player has to produce offensively at the level that Hall, who averaged 12.6 points per game as a senior, did a season ago but they’ve found ways in which to contribute. And if Coleby and Lufile can continue to do so, Wichita State’s destined to be a very tough out as the month progresses.
(This will be updated throughout the day.)
GAME OF THE DAY: Syracuse 74, No. 25 Texas A&M 67
The Orange got 20 points from Michael Gbinije and 15 points and five assists from Trevor Cooney as they won the Battle 4 Atlantis title on Friday afternoon. We wrote on this game earlier. Are the Orange for real this year?
No. 10 Gonzaga 73, No. 17 UConn 70: Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis made some big plays down the stretch as the Bulldogs held on to win a game they led by as much as 21 in the second half. Kyle Wiltjer scored a team-best 17 points for Gonzaga, which finished third at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Rob Dauster wrote more about the Bulldogs and their second-half performance here.
Alabama 64, No. 20 Wichita State 60: Not only did the Shockers drop their second straight at the AdvoCare Invitational, but they also saw Anton Grady leave the game on a stretcher after being involved in a scary second-half collision. He was awake and alert shortly after leaving the court. While the Shockers’ losses to USC and Alabama don’t help them from an NCAA tournament standpoint, the bigger issue is the team’s health.
Quincy Ford, Northeastern: Not only did he score 24 points in the upset win over No. 15 Miami, but he hit the game-winning jumper, too. Video here.
Wichita State’s bigs: Five of them (Anton Grady, Zach Brown, Rashard Kelly, Bush Wakumota, Eric Hamilton) finished a combined 3-for-21 from the floor with 14 points and 14 fouls. Wakumota shot one of the worst threes you’ll ever see with Wichita State down 62-60 with 10 seconds left.
Grady suffered a scary neck injury late in the game, but early reports sound positive.
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
- Jamal Murray went for 21 points and three assists without a turnover at No. 1 Kentucky rolled over South Florida. The big question: How bad is Tyler Ulis’ elbow injury?
- Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart both had 13 points as No. 8 Villanova knocked off Georgia Tech to win the Preseason NIT, 69-52.
- No. 23 Xavier raced out of the gates against USC and led by as much as 32, going on to win 87-77 in Orlando. Trevon Bluiett led four Musketeers in double figures with 16 points and James Farr added 12 to go along with nine rebounds off the bench.
OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS
- Stanford finished third at the Preseason NIT with a 69-66 win over Arkansas, closing the game on a stunning 21-1 run. Rosco Allen scored eight of his career-high 25 points during that run, and Marcus Allen’s goal-tended layup with 2.6 seconds remaining gave the Cardinal the lead for good.
UNLV sophomore Goodluck Okonoboh is transferring out of the program, a source told NBCSports.com.
The 6-foot-10 center was the No. 31 recruit in the Class of 2014, but he never was able to find a place in the UNLV rotation. He averaged 2.9 blocks as a freshman, but is a career 34 percent free throw shooter that never proved he could be more than just an athlete.
With Ben Carter getting eligible and UNLV landing Stephen Zimmerman this season, Okonoboh’s minutes dried up. He played just 19 minutes total against UCLA and Indiana.