Normal, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - One of the final three undefeated teams in the nation takes the floor at Redbird Arena tonight, as the fifth-ranked Wichita State Shockers try to keep the good times rolling against Illinois State in Missouri Valley Conference action.
Along with Arizona and Syracuse, the Shockers are the only team in the country that is still enjoying an unblemished record. The team has had a few close calls, such as a 72-69 overtime affair versus Missouri State on the road 11 days ago, but for the most part the victories have been rather comfortable.
Over the weekend, Wichita State moved to 6-0 in conference and 11-0 at home with a 68-48 triumph over Indiana State, the Sycamores being the only team in the MVC that had yet to drop a league bout before the meeting. Dating back to last season, the Shockers have won 23 of their last 24 outings, the lone setback coming against Louisville (72-68) during the 2013 NCAA National Semifinals in Atlanta.
In hopes of recording their second four-game win streak of the season tonight, the Redbirds take the floor at home. Over the weekend, Illinois State captured a 77-63 victory over Drake on the road, a much more comfortable outcome than the team's 79-78 overtime squeaker against Evansville three days earlier at home.
These teams met just two weeks ago in Kansas, with the Shockers lighting up the visitors in a 66-47 final. Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker both tallied 11 points for the hosts, although the Shockers did show a few cracks in the armor as they shot only 11-of-22 at the free-throw line. Bobby Hunter led the visitors with 11 points as they shot just 32.7 percent from the floor, 7-of-26 beyond the arc, and turned the ball over 15 times.
With the victory, WSU tied the all-time series at 37-37.
The Shockers converted a mere 3-of-15 behind the 3-point line over the weekend against Indiana State, but at the same time held the visitors to only 5-of-20 out on the perimeter and a total of 16 field goals on 51 attempts. Baker led the offense for WSU with 16 points, followed by Fred VanVleet with 15 and both Darius Carter and Chadrack Lufile with 10 points. Lufile also cleared 11 rebounds in order to push the team to a 44-30 advantage on the glass. Perhaps most remarkable about the win is that the Shockers still dominated while Early scored just six points.
After 19 games, it is Early who owns the scoring lead with his 15.3 ppg, although his 28.3 percent shooting behind the 3-point line is sorely lacking. He does make up for it with his 6.6 rpg, but then he also accounts for a mere 14 assists, against 36 turnovers. VanVleet (13.8 ppg) is far more adept at directing an offense, sporting an impressive 97 assists, against just 25 turnovers. Baker (13.6 ppg) can also distribute the ball (57 assists) and has shown the ability to give the team a jolt out on the perimeter where he has made good on 42.6 percent of his attempts.
Shooting 53.3 percent from the floor in the first half, including 7-of-11 behind the 3-point line, the Redbirds were able to put some distance between themselves and Drake, en route to the double-digit win on the road last weekend. Daishon Knight tallied 17 points and seven rebounds off the bench, followed by Reggie Lynch with 14 points, seven boards and four blocked shots, while Bobby Hunter and Nick Zeisloft contributed 13 and 12 points, respectively, as well as five rebounds apiece.
Knight, who has come off the pine in five of his 18 appearances, leads the team in scoring overall with 13.2 ppg, even though he is shooting just 38.0 percent from the field. Zach Lofton, another part-time starter, chips in with 11.6 ppg, but his accuracy from the floor is absolutely abysmal at just 29.6 percent. A big part of the problem is his insistence on letting fly with half of his 203 field goal attempts from 3-point range where he has hit a mere 25.7 percent.