Shockers move to 12-0
By JEFFREY PARSON
WICHITA -- North Carolina Central had reasons to fold at halftime on Sunday.
It wasn't just that the Eagles were trailing No. 11 Wichita State by 16, it was that they were doing so after two days of travel nightmares.
Stranded in Atlanta on Saturday night, North Carolina Central was forced to practice in a hotel parking lot. The coaches and players then arrived in Wichita in three shifts on Sunday. Nine bags were still missing, the assistant coaches had to wear warm-ups and some players didn't have their shoes.
"But I told our guys at halftime that none of that should prevent us from being tough," coach LaVelle Moton said. "I challenged our guys to respond at halftime, and I thought we responded."
That and a career-high 37 points from Jeremy Ingram kept things interesting before Wichita State pulled out a 77-66 victory.
Wichita State (12-0) extended the best start in school history behind four double-digit scorers, led by Darius Carter's season-high 19. Cleanthony Early had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Ron Baker scored 15, and Fred VanVleet added 14 points and eight assists.
North Carolina Central (7-3) was outrebounded 37-22, including a 15-3 disparity on the offensive glass. Ingram was 12 of 21 from the floor and 7 of 13 from the 3-point line. He scored 27 points in the second half.
"When you can shoot from as deep as he can," VanVleet said, "and just put your head down to get a whistle this season, it's tough to defend."
While Moton was impressed with Ingram's performance, he grimaced while looking over the stat sheet,
"We've got to have better balance," the coach said. "You can't beat the No. (11) team in the country with one guy scoring double figures. If you look at their box score, with four guys doing it, that's the paradigm for how it's supposed to be done."
The game started to shift with seven minutes remaining in the first half. After Ingram hit a 3-pointer to make it 21-19 Shockers with 7:06 remaining, North Carolina Central did not score for five minutes.
"They went to a zone," Moton said, "and we looked like we've never seen a zone before in our lives."
Carter scored six points in the ensuing 15-0 run, and Wichita State led 40-24 at half.
But things changed just 14 seconds into the second half when Ingram converted a four-point play.
"It took a chunk out of our lead," VanVleet said, "and they had momentum."
It wasn't just that Ingram, who entered the game averaging 23.2 points, was heating up, it's that he was doing it against Tekele Cotton, the Shockers' top defender.
When Ingram hit a 3-pointer with 16:59 left to get the Eagles within 44-36, he already had 10 points in the half, 20 in the game, and had cut Wichita State's 16-point halftime lead in half.
"We were not doing the things we wanted to do defensively," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said.
The Eagles did not score again for four minutes but stayed within striking distance.
Ingram scored five straight points, and the Shockers led 54-46 with 8:21 remaining.
It was still an eight-point game when Early hit a transition 3-pointer and Baker followed with a steal that led to VanVleet's layup that made it 66-53 Wichita State with 4:57 to play.
But Ingram continued to make it interesting. His deep 3 with 3:10 remaining pulled North Carolina Central within 68-60.
The Eagles had it down to 70-63 when Wichita State patiently worked the shot clock and found Baker in the corner. He swished a 3-pointer for a 73-63 lead with 1:40 remaining.
"They hit huge shots," Moton said. "Huge shots."
When the Shockers forced a steal on the other end, leading to Early's dunk, Wichita State could finally relax.
"There's a lot of pressure as a team being undefeated this late into the season," Baker said.
Marshall credited his team's rebounding with keeping North Carolina Central at bay.
"(The Eagles) were outrebounding their opponents, so to outrebound them by 15 tonight is really good," he said. "Cleanthony really looked vertical tonight. He went up and got some rebounds."