CARBONDALE, Ill. — Wichita State’s best ball-handling game of the season produced its best shooting performance of the season.
The eighth-ranked Shockers won their 14th straight game, tying a school record, with an 82-67 win over Southern Illinois at SIU Arena on Thursday. WSU scored 82 points despite a sub-par shooting night from guard Ron Baker and limited minutes from center Darius Carter due to foul trouble. The Missouri Valley Conference opener for both teams went as expected, even if the Shockers weren’t happy with their defense.
Foul trouble was the only issue to slow the Shockers (14-0, 1-0 MVC). SIU (4-10, 0-1) offered little resistance despite switching regularly from man-to-man defense to zone and back again. No matter which defense SIU tried, the Shockers shot over it, drove through it or sped downcourt to score before it got organized.
“The thing that has impressed me, whether it's on film or watching them on TV, is their balance,” SIU coach Barry Hinson said. “Gregg (Marshall) always has a balanced team. He watches how you play and how you guard him, and he always has a counter for it. When they shoot 60 percent, it's hard.”
The Shockers made 30 of 50 shots, their best accuracy of the season. They made 9 of 20 three-pointers (45 percent), also their best this season. It all worked because they committed a mere six turnovers, equaling their season low. Cleanthony Early led WSU with 23 points, his third 20-point game in the past four. Fred VanVleet scored 17, 15 in the first half. Freshman Sean O’Brien and senior Desmar Jackson led SIU with 19 points each.
“We couldn’t stop them, so I’m glad we scored 82,” Marshall said.
With that careful stewardship of the basketball, WSU never allowed SIU to go on runs or get the crowd involved. The Shockers outscored SIU 38-18 in the lane and 15-2 on fast-breaks. VanVleet handed out seven assists and didn’t turn the ball over.
“Early in the first half we got our defense into the game and were able to get out into transition,” VanVleet said. “Getting easy layups will set up your perimeter game.”
As usual, VanVleet kept the Shockers on track. In a game where defense played a minor role, he had two steals and made himself a pest for any Saluki driving to the basket.
“I thought the key to Wichita State is the little stinker, VanVleet,” Hinson said. “He's just unbelievable. Seven assists, no turnovers. They had one turnover in the first half and I have no idea when it appeared. They went 15 or 16 minutes without a turnover and that's really impressive.”
The Shockers dominated the first half, leading by as many as 20 points before settling for a 49-32 lead at halftime. They made 17 of 29 shots and 5 of 12 threes. Their drives to the basket got SIU in foul trouble and the Shockers made all 10 of their free throws in the first half.
WSU started to hit high gear with four straight possessions in which it scored three points to take a 21-14 lead to 33-17. Early started the burst with a three-point play after VanVleet stole a post pass to start a break. After an SIU miss, VanVleet beat the defense to the rim for another three-point play. Nick Wiggins followed with a three-point basket and VanVleet backed off the defense at the top of the key to add another three for a 33-17 lead.
Most of the half belonged to VanVleet, who finished with 15 points, four assists and two steals. When a 7-0 run roused SIU’s fans, VanVleet quieted them with a three to give WSU a 47-31 lead.
The Shockers built their lead to 55-32 with a 6-0 run to start the second half. VanVleet forced a turnover on SIU’s first possession, leading to a basket by Early. After another SIU turnover, Early made two free throws. VanVleet’s basket, after an SIU miss, gave WSU a 23-point lead.
WSU matched the 1953-54 team for the program’s longest winning streak. The Shockers can extend that record on Sunday against Northern Iowa at Koch Arena.
“We want to break the record, not tie it,” Wiggins said. “It’s time for Valley play, so it’s time to bring it.”