Key statistics: WSU held Sycamores guard Dawon Cummings to six points, all from the line, and kept guard Jake Odum from shooting a free throw. Cummings, who missed six shots, scored 19 points at Koch Arena. Odum averages six free throws a game.
How the game turned: Cleanthony Early scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, making 4 of 8 shots. All four makes came within a few feet of the basket, helping him score seven points at the line. His driving three-point play with 1:03 remaining gave WSU a 61-56 lead. Early scored more than half of WSU’s points in the second half (29) and the Sycamores couldn’t match his ability to score and draw fouls in the lane.
Records: WSU 24-0, 11-0 MVC; ISU 17-6, 8-3
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WSU senior Chadrack Lufile made 4 of 6 free throws, all in the final 43 seconds and all looking into an active student section waving foam noodles to distract him. “Honestly, I don’t even remember that they had foam noodles,” Lufile said. “I was so in tune with the game, I just shot my free throws.” Lufile is a 68-percent free-throw shooter, up from 40 percent last season. The improvement comes from Lufile’s work after practice, sometimes shooting more than 100 free throws before leaving. “Those free throws looked good,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “I was confident and happy when he went to the line because of all the work he’s put in. He can draw from that time in the gym.” Lufile made the two most pressure-packed foul shots with 43 seconds to play to give WSU a 63-58 lead. He made one and missed one to put WSU up 64-58 with 34 seconds to play. With 15 seconds remaining, he split two again to produce the final score. “It feels great that (Marshall) trusts me to close a game,” Lufile said. “Last year, I know he didn’t have that confidence because I wasn’t putting the work in at the line. You put the work in, you get the output.”Wednesday’s game wasn’t pretty, which may bother national observers looking for style points as they evaluate WSU’s worthiness at the top of the polls. While it lacked offensive grace, WSU’s defense shouldn’t be overlooked. It held Indiana State to 6-of-30 shooting in the second half, 2 of 15 from three. The Sycamores entered the game shooting 38.3 percent from three-point range, second in the MVC. WSU blocked seven shots and altered several others. Indiana State center Justin Gant continued to struggle against the Shockers, missing 6 of 7 shots. Down 58-56, the Shockers forced Gant into an awkward layup that hit the bottom of the rim. “We just didn’t put the ball in the basket,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “We were right there several times, missing a free throw or missing one where we got to the rim. They got a guy usually around the basket that can block a shot a little better than we can.” Indiana State missed its final six shots after cutting the lead to two points with 2:01 to play and made 2 of 4 free throws.According to the shot chart, the Sycamores missed 10 of 14 shots in and around the lane in the second half. “They do a good job rotating over for the shot block,” Odum said. “It’s always in the back of your head when you get there.”Marshall is giving each victory a name in order to keep the focus on each game, not on the big picture of unbeaten. The Shockers called No. 23 Michael Jordan. Their No. 24 was Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch. “Beast mode,” Marshall said. “He did his talking on the field.”The Sycamores kept it close with their defense, holding WSU to 42.6-percent shooting. They also out-rebounded WSU 41-35 and grabbed 11 offensive rebounds to WSU’s four. Western Kentucky is the only team to out-rebound the Shockers (42-40) this season and DePaul matched them with 34. “The guys fought their tails off on the defensive end,” Lansing said. “I thought we were getting to loose balls more than them.”Indiana State drew 9,245, above its average of 6,104. Its season high was 7,221 for the opener against Ball State. The Sycamores knew they let a chance slip away to bring some of those fans back again. “I think our fans really fueled us,” Indiana State’s Khristian Smith said. “It feels bad that we couldn’t come out on top.”Smith said the path to beating the Shockers comes in the lane. Indiana State got part of the task done. “You’ve got to out-tough them, get the 50-50 balls, out-rebound them, limit them to one shot, because they’re not going to turn the ball over,” he said. “They’re a very smart team.”WSU’s 24-game win streak to start the season ranks second behind Indiana State’s 33-0 record in 1978-79 in MVC history. Winning 24 games in a row (at any time) ranks third in Valley history behind Cincinnati’s 37 (1961-63) and the Indiana State streak. WSU’s 11-0 MVC record is the conference’s best since Drake went 13-0 in 2007-08. The last MVC team to go unbeaten in conference play was Bradley (16-0) in 1985-86.Indiana State has played nine home games, something that should be considered when judging its post-season resume. It played four non-conference games at home and eight on road/neutral courts. That is a tough way to build a resume.
Up next: at Northern Iowa, 8 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)