WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Ron Baker scored 19 points, Cleanthony Early added 18 and fourth-ranked Wichita State overcame a sloppy start to beat Southern Illinois 78-67 on Tuesday night and remain unbeaten.
Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter added 12 points apiece for the Shockers, who became the first team to start 26-0 since Memphis in 2008. Wichita State has five games standing in the way of becoming the first team since Saint Joseph’s in 2004 to have a perfect regular season.
The Hawks didn’t lose that year until the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Wichita State (13-0 Missouri Valley Conference) certainly had its hands full, especially with Southern Illinois guard Anthony Beane. He scored 25 points, getting to the rim at will until late in the game, when the Shockers finally started to double- and triple-team him.
Desmar Jackson and Jalen Pendleton added 13 points each for the Salukis (10-16, 6-7), who had their first four-game winning streak in more than four years come to an end.
The Shockers trailed at halftime for the ninth time during their unbeaten run, though the 33-32 deficit could have been a whole lot worse the way they were shooting the ball.
Wichita State was just 2 of 14 from 3-point range in the first half, most of them missing just about everything. In fact, the only shots the Shockers seemed to make outside of 3 feet were a series of free throws that Early made to keep them within striking distance.
It didn’t help that the Shockers were in foul trouble, too. Baker and Fred VanVleet were on the bench with two fouls apiece late in the half. Once they returned after the break, the Shockers started to pick up steam.
Early converted a three-point play with 15:47 to put them ahead 44-43, the seventh lead change in the game. Baker added a silky-smooth jumper, then knocked down his first 3 moments later as Wichita State took control and Koch Arena suddenly got rocking.
Beane refused to let the Salukis wilt under the pressure.
The sophomore guard kept slicing through Wichita State’s man-to-man defense for baskets near the rim, more than once drawing contact along the way. When the Shockers finally clamped down on him, he deftly found the open teammate for wide-open looks.
Pendleton’s three-point play pulled the Salukis to 69-64 with 2½ minutes left, but Baker answered with his third 3-pointer at the other end. The Shockers turned up the pressure and forced Sean O’Brien into a turnover, and that led to a run-out by Baker, who was fouled and calmly made both free throws.
Still with a chance to make it a game, Southern Illinois promptly turned it over again, and this time the Salukis allowed VanVleet to go for an uncontested layup that made it 76-64.
Wichita State merely had to coax the final seconds off the clock to wrap up the win.