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Wichita State joins elite company with 30th consecutive win

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, at 10:31 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, March 20, 2014, at 6:22 p.m.

— Wichita State is forcing its way into college basketball history alongside the sport’s biggest names.

The second-ranked Shockers became the first team to go 30-0 in the regular season with Tuesday’s 69-49 win over Bradley at Carver Arena. They are one of 12 schools to reach 30-0 and the first 11 needed to win games in tournament play. That’s a list that includes four UCLA teams, 1976 Indiana, 1957 North Carolina and 1979 Indiana State.

Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor, Larry Bird and Scott May, meet the Shockers (30-0, 17-0 Missouri Valley Conference). They faced down another charged-up crowd and an energized opponent. Bradley (12-18, 7-10) fought for a half, beating up the Shockers on the boards, before it faded.

Even in a season full of history and streaks, this one got the Shockers’ attention.

“It means a lot —you’re talking about 30 games in a row and all great teams in college hoops,” WSU sophomore guard Fred VanVleet said. “As a team — and not just one individual makes it even more glorifying for us — it’s a great honor. We’re going to try to get 31 on Saturday.”

They understand that teams play more games in this era of tournaments and seasons that start in early November. Those new games are also more chances to lose, and the Shockers don’t play that way.

“I think this one will hit me when I’m 40 and watching college basketball myself as a spectator,” WSU guard Ron Baker said.

WSU plays Missouri State at Koch Arena on Saturday and the media horde will grow as they attempt to become the first team since Saint Joseph’s in 2004 to finish the regular season unbeaten.

The Shockers will deal with that on Saturday. On Tuesday, No. 30 sounded sweet. Coach Gregg Marshall used that opportunity as his theme for the game.

“It’s a first,” Marshall said. “That’s all we talked about. These guys like to be the first and the only and the best. They love that challenge. They embrace it.”

WSU made 10 of 21 three-pointers, six of nine in the second half. Baker led WSU with 15 points, making three of seven threes. Tekele Cotton added 13 points and Cleanthony Early 12. Baker, who has committed 14 turnovers in the past four games, had none on Tuesday. He did most of his damage — beyond a one-handed dunk on a break — with catch-and-shoot jumpers.

“When he’s open and in rhythm, I don’t want him even thinking about passing,” Marshall said.

Bradley made just eight baskets in the second half and 16 of 59 for the game (27.1 percent). Walt Lemon Jr. led Bradley with 18 points, needing 20 shots to get there. Tyshon Pickett also took 20 shots and he scored 13 points.

The Shockers blocked six shots. With Lemon and Pickett combing to take 40 of the team’s 59 shots, WSU knew who to defend. Lemon and Pickett faced multiple defenders on almost every attempt and they combined to miss 29 shots.

“If I get around (Cotton), it’s a tough finish over a 6-foot-9 player,” Lemon said. “He has good help behind him.”

Bradley, with a season-high crowd of 10,257 making it sound like better days, challenged the Shockers for a half.

The Shockers made four of five three-pointers in the first five minutes of the second half to go up 50-32. VanVleet, who took one shot in the first half, made two of the threes and found Early in the corner for the third. Baker’s three gave WSU an 18-point lead with 12:57 to play.

Bradley’s offense went cold when the Shockers shut off the offensive rebounds. The Braves missed seven of their first 10 shots in the second half. Unlike the first half, they didn’t get second chances.

The Braves made a push, sparked by Auston Barnes’ outside shooting, and woke the crowd when Barnes’ three cut the lead to 57-42. WSU responded, as it usually does, with a three by VanVleet and a basket in the lane by Chadrack Lufile to stretch the lead to 62-42.

Lemon scored the game’s next seven points to cut WSU’s lead to 62-49. WSU stopped that rally when Early’s hard contest forced Lemon to miss a shot in the lane. Early missed a three, but Cotton hustled to keep the ball in Shocker hands. The possession ended with Darius Carter dunking. After Pickett missed two shots, Cotton banked in a jumper for a 66-49 lead and the threat died a quiet death.

“When their guards are making every shot, it’s tough,” Lemon said.

In the first half, Wichita State went almost four minutes without a basket and the Braves pulled within 26-22. Bradley matched WSU’s ferocity on the boards and a zone defense got the Shockers standing around.

Baker changed that tone with a three near the end of the shot clock to put WSU up 29-22. Early stole a pass near the foul line, chased it down near mid-court, and hit hustling Darius Carter with a bounce pass for a one-handed dunk. After a scary Brave turnover — Lemon Jr. hit his head on the court after teammate Jordan Prosser knocked him over chasing a rebound — Early made a three for a 34-22 lead.

WSU led 35-25 at halftime. The Braves shot a miserable 8 for 34, yet stuck close because of 11 offensive rebounds and 10 second-chance points. Pickett scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the first half.

The Shockers made 11 of 23 shots and 9 of 10 fouls shots in the first half. Baker led WSU with nine first-half points and Cotton added eight.

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.

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