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Shockers pummel Missouri State in MVC tourney

3/9/2014

By R.B. FALLSTROM

By R.B. FALLSTROM

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- All those runaway wins, it's hard for unbeaten Wichita State to pick a favorite.

Blowouts have become the norm for the Shockers. It keeps them loose during games and after.

"I can't remember which one was our best game, but if you think so, then OK," Shocker point guard Fred VanVleet said after the second-ranked Shockers encountered little resistance in a 67-42 rout of Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament semifinals on Saturday.

Coach Gregg Marshall said he's got a "fun team to watch, a fun team to coach, a fun team to be around." He scoffed at naysayers who might criticize strength of schedule.

"Who can find fault with 33-0? No, I take that back, I know people find fault with 33-0. I don't. I enjoy it," Marshall said. "I've enjoyed it the whole year."

Marshall wrapped up his postgame news conference by complaining about an exposed nail on the table at the podium that caused him to rip his jacket on Friday, and to point out that Tekele Cotton's first name is often mispronounced.

"He's going to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the second time in three weeks," Marshall said. "It's not Tekeel, it's Tekale -- like the vegetable."

Cleanthony Early scored 20 points with three 3-pointers and a pair of dunks and Wichita State began celebrating early in the second half. The 22-point romp over Evansville in the quarterfinals had a similar feel.

"Our motto is to 'play angry,"' center Kadeem Coleby said. "But at the same time we're out there on the court smiling, and we're having fun with each other."

And making life miserable for the opposition.

"They handled us," Missouri State coach Paul Lusk said. "Obviously, we had some guys go down but give them credit. It wasn't a whole lot of fun to sit through."

Jarmar Gulley, who leads the team with a 14.7-point average, had five points in 14 minutes before he left with a jaw injury. Keith Pickens was scoreless and played three minutes because of a groin injury.

"They're two of our best guys," forward Christian Kirk said. "That's pretty tough."

Cotton also made three 3-pointers for the top-seeded Shockers, who matched the start by Larry Bird and Indiana State in 1979 before they lost to Michigan State and Magic Johnson in the NCAA title game. Wichita State will be heavily favored against Indiana State or Southern Illinois to make it 34 in a row, which would match the NCAA-record start by UNLV in 1990-91.

Players appear utterly unconcerned.

"I don't know about exactly celebrating what we've accomplished, so to speak, as opposed to thinking about how great we are," said VanVleet, the Valley player of the year. "We don't really blow our heads up like that. We have fun throughout the process.

"If you watched the game, you saw that."

The Shockers, who last won the conference tourney in 1987, took control with a 17-0 run in the first half and topped it with 24 straight points in the second, scoring at will while Missouri State endured droughts totaling more than 15 minutes.

"I want to win very badly, but I would want to beat you at cards if we dealt them tonight," Marshall told a questioner. "That's just the way I'm wired."

Missouri State (21-11) gave Wichita State its closest call in the regular season, losing by three in overtime at home in January after squandering a 19-point lead. The Bears got away with 33 percent shooting in the quarterfinals against Illinois State but were blown out shooting 31 percent against the Shockers.

Cotton added 13 points, and VanVleet had nine points and five assists.

Gavin Thurman led Missouri State with nine points. Austin Ruder was held to four points on 2-for-7 shooting after going 6 for 12 from 3-point range and scoring 21 points in the quarterfinals.

Wichita State went to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed last season and is closing in on a No. 1 seed this March.

Early had his two dunks, celebrating a bit on the way back down court each time, and was among seven players scoring during the 24-0 run that made it 61-23 with 8:58 to go.

The Shockers were 8 for 10 from 3-point range in the first half, with five of them coming in the 17-0 run. Marshall said it was actually 8 for 8 because the two misses were with the shot clock about to expire.

"To us, it's just a rush of excitement," guard Ron Baker said.

Missouri State went more than 6.5 minutes without a point before Thurman scored in the lane with 2:13 to go in the half. The Bears trailed 33-19 at the half, their lowest first-half scoring output this season.