Wichita State goes to 23-0 after early scare from Evansville

Wichita State's Tekele Cotton, right, and Kadeem Coleby battle Evansville's Blake Simmons for a rebound during the second half of Saturday’s game at Koch Arena.
Wichita State's Tekele Cotton, right, and Kadeem Coleby battle Evansville's Blake Simmons for a rebound during the second half of Saturday’s game at Koch Arena. The Wichita Eagle

From the stands or the couch, Wichita State’s pressure defense may look like a mad scramble, and it is intended to produce that effect on opponents.

From center Kadeem Coleby’s perspective, watching while he waits as a goalie near the basket, it looks like well-choreographed mayhem. He watches his teammates trap, anticipate passes, deflect bouncing balls and channel dribblers into bad spots.

“From back there, it looks like everybody knows where they need to be,” Coleby said. “It looks chaotic, but it looks focused and stable at the same time.”

No. 4 Wichita State used pressure defense, both half and full court, to handle Evansville 81-67 on Saturday at Koch Arena.

The Shockers (23-0, 10-0 Missouri Valley Conference) extended their school-record win streaks, overall and in MVC play. They moved closer to Drake’s 13-0 record from 2008 as the fourth-best start in MVC games. They passed the 1985-86 Bradley team (22 straight wins) and are in third place in MVC history, behind Cincinnati’s 37-game streak that stretched from 1961-63 and Indiana State’s 33-game streak in 1978-79.

Guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet led WSU with 14 points each. Forward Cleanthony Early added 13 and eight rebounds. The Shockers outscored the Aces 24-10 at the foul line and out-rebounded them 40-29.

Evansville sophomore D.J. Balentine made 11 of 21 shots to score 26 points, the only Evansville player in double figures. Foul trouble kept the Aces shuttling in and out all game. Starters Adam Wing and Egidijus Mockevicius fouled out and Duane Gibson ended the game with four.

Evansville (10-13, 3-7) played hard and led by 15 in the first half. Ultimately, however, the Aces joined the long line of teams serving as props for WSU’s run at history.

“They play so hard and they’re so active,” Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. “They’ve got so many pieces.”

The Shockers didn’t use those pieces early in the game and Evansville blew out to a 17-9 lead by making its first eight shots.

The Aces didn’t miss a shot until 11:26 remained in the first half. It led 29-14 with 8:46 to play. The Aces ran their motion offense, running Balentine off screens and getting plenty of open shots. The Shockers, not fearing the outside shooting of point guards Jaylon Brown and Gibson, played off them to disrupt passing lanes. That allowed Evansville’s offense to run smoothly.

That changed when the Shockers applied more heat on the guards.

“Early on, they were hitting Balentine right on target when he was coming off screens,” VanVleet said. “Once you extend the pressure, the passes were behind him or over his head a little bit. It messes up the flow.”

The Shockers also ramped up their press, going from a passive look designed to keep the ball-handlers in front of defenders to a more aggressive, trapping look. The switch forced the Aces, who start two freshmen and three sophomores, to play too quickly, forcing passes and taking bad shots.

“During that stretch when they’re making their run, it’s like pouring gasoline on a fire,” Simmons said. “It certainly gets them playing at an even higher intensity level and it gets the people in the stands even more involved. You’ve got to execute. During that stretch, we didn’t.”

Evansville went up by 15 points before WSU’s size and press took over. The Shockers blew to an 11-0 run, powered by turnovers and easy baskets. Baker stole a pass by Evansville freshman Duane Gibson and scored to start the burst. VanVleet knocked the ball away freshman Jaylon Brown near half court, got the ball back, and scored to cut the lead to 29-23.

Simmons called timeout and the Shockers forced a 10-second call after the break.

“We needed to get them out of rhythm,” Marshall said. “They were in such a great rhythm offensively. They were allowed to walk it up. We needed to get the tempo more to our liking.”

Evansville ended the run to take a 31-25 lead, barely slowing the Shockers.

WSU grabbed its first lead on Early’s three-pointer, 35-33. Darius Carter followed with a dunk after a rushed shot by Evansville’s Blake Simmons for a 37-33 lead. Early added two free throws in the final minute for a 39-33 halftime lead.

Evansville closed within four points early in the second half before the Shockers pulled away for good. WSU led 53-41 with 13:39 to play and the lead never dipped below 10 points.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle