Wichita State reaches 34-0, wins MVC final
ST. LOUIS — Wichita State’s still perfect. And proudly awaiting a No. 1 seed.
After the nation’s only unbeaten made another put-away run in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament title game, guard Fred VanVleet fired back at doubters who cast aspersions on a schedule ranked 113th in the nation.
“You can debate what you want to debate. Facts are facts, truth is truth,” VanVleet, the conference player of the year, said after the second-ranked Shockers beat Indiana State 83-69 on Sunday to go to 34-0. “We’re not into debating how good or great we are or how bad somebody else.
“That’s for barber shop talk and coffee table arguments. We’re not into that stuff. If they feel that way, it’s on them. And nobody that’s arguing about it is on the selection committee.”
Players wore championship T-shirts that proclaimed Wichita State the winner on the front but on the back had a bracket with Indiana State winning.
“They’ll get us the right ones eventually,” guard Ron Baker said.
Over the last two days of the tournament, coach Gregg Marshall predicted a return trip to St. Louis, for the second and third rounds of the Midwest Regional.
“We know the routine, we know the hotel. There won’t be any ooh, aah moments,” Marshall said. “It will be just business as usual.”
VanVleet scored 22 points including several key baskets late and the Shockers got their typical strong ensemble effort.
“Every one of them’s a handful,” Indiana State guard Jake Odum said. “We were right there but they’re unbeaten for a reason. They stayed composed, they hit tough shots, they earned it.”
Tekele Cotton added 20 points — with four 3-pointers — and Baker had 14 points for the Shockers (34-0), who got tested in the second half before putting the title game out of reach with a 13-0 run capped by two 3-pointers from VanVleet that put them up by 18 points with 5:38 to go.
“I didn’t have enough timeouts to stop the runs, but that’s what they do,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “That’s why they’re undefeated. That’s why they’re hoisting the trophy.”
Wichita State matched the NCAA record for victories to start the season by UNLV in 1990-91 with its third straight convincing tournament win after going 18-0 in the conference regular season. The Shockers won their first conference tournament since 1987.
“We’re not flawless,” Marshall said. “Our record is flawless. We’ve got great players. They’ve taken us on an unbelievable ride to this point.”
Manny Arop and Justin Gant had 18 points apiece for second-seeded Indiana State (23-10), which has one of the closer calls against Wichita State with a seven-point loss at home in early February. Arop totaled 12 points the first two tourney games.
“Hopefully we’ll get into the NIT,” Odum said. “We’ll see if we can make a splash there.”
The Shockers had runs of 17-0 and 24-0 while beating Missouri State by 25 points in the semifinals.
Wichita State’s last nine victories have all been by double digits. The Shockers have won 12 of 14 in the Indiana State series.
“They do not have weaknesses,” Lansing said. “If anybody could see one, I’d like to hear it.”
VanVleet scored 13 points in the final 6 minutes and was named to the all-tournament team along Cleanthony Early and Cotton, who was voted the tourney MVP. Odum also made the team along with Evansville’s D.J. Balentine, who scored 61 points in two games.
The only way the Valley could get two teams in the NCAA tournament was if Wichita State lost. The Shockers earned the conference’s automatic bid after going to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed and Valley tourney runner-up last March.
Wichita State got some early breathing room with an 11-0 run for a 23-11 lead not long past the mid-point of the first half, and led by at least nine points the rest of the half while taking a 39-29 halftime lead. Darius Carter led the way off the bench with nine points and five rebounds in 9 minutes.
VanVleet hit a layup and Baker had a three-point play in the opening minute of the second half to open a 15-point gap, then Wichita State went cold missing eight straight shots while Indiana State scored nine straight points to shave the deficit to six. Indiana crawled back within five points twice, the last time on two free throws by Odum with 10:20 that made make it 55-50.
Indiana State cut the gap to eight points with about 3 minutes left but VanVleet hit a 3-pointer and made two layups the rest of the way.
*Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Bill Boyce