Key statistics: WSU made 25 of 27 free throws with Cleanthony Early making all 11 of his. Early scored 26 points, 20 in the second half.
How the game turned: The Shockers grabbed two offensive rebounds in the final 1:05, one by Tekele Cotton and one by Darius Carter. Carter scored for a 69-66 lead with 37 seconds remaining and WSU’s lead never shrank below that margin.
Records: WSU 11-0, Alabama 5-5
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The Shockers needed a big game from Cleanthony Early and they got it. He made 7 of 11 shots, giving WSU an inside presence it needed. He drove to the basket and drew a ton of fouls. It wasn’t a perfect night – four turnovers and 1-of-4 shooting from three are minuses. You can’t knock 6 of 9 shots and 7 of 7 free throws with four rebounds in the second half on the road. He scored seven of those points to break a 58-all tie and give WSU a 65-61 lead. “Making plays – that transition dunk after turning the ball over was a big play,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “He continued to make big plays, posting up, scoring around the basket.”One Early’s best moments was a three-point play when he twisted through a double team for a basket. His free throw gave WSU that 65-61 lead with 2:12 remaining. Marshall teases Early about “flailing” toward the basket and not taking the ball strong. Early didn’t flail on that play. “I was just trying to go into the contact,” Early said. “I just tried to go into him and be aggressive.” Shocker big men haven’t drawn many double teams this season. Carter drew at least one on Tuesday and, after playing 26 minutes with nine points and seven rebounds, appears to be the big man coaches are most confident in when they need scoring.. Early is capable of drawing the double team.When Alabama’s Trevor Releford was at Bishop Miege, WSU coaches thought they would have a good chance to recruit him because his size might keep higher-profile schools from offering. It’s fun to think about what Releford would look like with the Shockers. He is a talent and it is almost impossible to keep him out of the lane. His 22 points, six assists and one turnover in 38 minutes is quite impressive. He sat out Saturday’s game with a hip injury and said it didn’t bother him against WSU. “It was a little tight, but today it felt good,” he said.The Shockers led by 10 in the first half and Alabama was the team that had to explain a slow start at home. “They jumped on us,” Tide coach Anthony Grant said. “We had a lot of errors in the first half and they were able to get out in transition.”WSU is 3-0 on the road and none of the 11 teams ranked ahead of it in the Associated Press poll have played more than two road games. Those 11 total an 8-0 road record. Duke, which won’t play on another team’s home court until Jan. 4 at Notre Dame, should feel a little silly.Having said that, the Shockers beat a 5-5 team with an RPI ranked No. 126. Alabama’s name is better than its performance at this point in the season because it’s beaten a collection of nobodies. I wouldn’t expect this victory to rocket WSU up in the polls. When a team reaches this point in the polls, it should win at the No. 126 team. WSU’s best win is over BYU, which owns a very good win over Texas and a nice win over Stanford, but has also lost to UMass and Utah recently. WSU’s next premier win is over Saint Louis, whose best win is over Oral Roberts. These are the hairs that are split at the top of the rankings.Boy, Nick Wiggins can’t catch a break. He’s had several shots go in and out or spin around and out. On Tuesday, he got a layup to go, only to have Early goal-tend it.
Next up: vs. North Carolina Central, 7 p.m. Sunday (Cox 22)