Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early ate egg rolls that didn’t agree with him on Friday night. He threw up Saturday morning, came to practice and coaches sent him home.
By Saturday night, Early felt much better and by Sunday afternoon he played like a man who should stick to that routine. Early scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in No. 10 Wichita State’s 81-70 win over Davidson at Koch Arena.
“My stomach was acting crazy,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent, but I’m like 95.”
And don’t worry, egg-roll fans at a popular casual restaurant chain, Early recommends the dish even after Saturday’s unpleasantness.
“I’m going to eat it again,” he said. “I would recommend them — just that one time they didn’t do me too much justice.”
The Shockers (13-0) needed Early at close to his best to handle what has to be, in guard Fred VanVleet’s mind, the best 4-9 team in the nation. Davidson lost its fifth game to a ranked opponent while making a strong impression on the Shockers. WSU starts Missouri Valley Conference play on Thursday at Southern Illinois and Sunday’s game provided preparation for the 40-minute challenges awaiting.
“Today was a good tune-up for the grind that is the Valley,” VanVleet said. “Look at the schedule they’ve played — North Carolina, Virginia, Clemson. We weren’t looking at their record.”
WSU equaled the program’s second-best win streak and can match the 1953-54 team atop the list at SIU with a 14th straight win. No. 13 did not come easily. WSU never led by more than nine points until the final two minutes. The Shockers pushed, the crowd roared and Davidson responded, usually with a three-pointer.
“Our guys fought for 40 minutes, but Wichita State is a top-10 team and an undefeated team because they do everything,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “Their defense is superb. They do a great job of making every shot, every screen difficult.”
Davidson made 7 of 14 threes in the second half to keep close and made 11 of 28 for the game. WSU outscored Davidson by 17 points at the foul line, making 28 of 41. Ron Baker made 12 of 14 free throws to finish with 15 points.
Tyler Kalinoski, from Olathe East, led the Wildcats with 17 points after making 6 of 7 shots.
“You have to make play after play after play to beat them,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “That reminded me of a conference game.”
WSU made those plays in the final minutes to relieve the stress building up in packed Koch Arena. Early followed in a miss with a high-flying putback for a 68-62 lead. VanVleet made his only three of the game, eluding Davidson’s zone defense, for a 71-64 lead with 3:48 to play. Tekele Cotton blocked a dunk attempt by Chris Czerapowicz to protect that lead. Cotton swatted away Brian Sullivan’s three — his fourth block of the game — in the final minute to protect a 79-70 lead and end Davidson’s threat.
While Davidson ran a motion offense and spread out WSU’s defense with four and sometimes five good shooters, the Shockers won the game with its inside game. They outscored the Wildcats 28-14 in the paint. Early, who also made three three-pointers, grabbed two offensive rebounds and made 5 of 6 free throws. Darius Carter added 13 points despite missing six free throws.
“That was our advantage, to be able to score in the paint,” Marshall said. “We were able to drive it better. We were able to get to the line 41 times.”
Cotton helped hold Sullivan to eight points on 2-of-10 shooting in his first game after scoring 33 in an overtime loss to North Carolina. WSU also made it tough on center De’Mon Brooks, the Southern Conference preseason Player of the Year. Brooks, who missed six games with a groin injury before returning to score 13 against North Carolina, finished with 10 on 2-of-7 shooting.
WSU led 36-32 at halftime despite a rare rebounding deficit. Davidson out-rebounded the Shockers 18-15 in the first half and scored nine second-chance points off five offensive rebounds.
WSU built a seven-point lead twice and the crowd stood and cheered, trying to add a few points with their noise. Davidson refused to crack and delivered a 10-2 run to take a 32-31 lead. After doing a good job limiting Davidson’s outside shots, the Shockers gave up threes to Tom Droney and Jake Belford to surrender the lead.
The Shockers responded with a 5-0 run to end the half. Carter scored in the final seconds on a miss tipped his way by Cotton to end the half on a positive note.