Wichita St.-S. Illinois Preview

The Associated Press

After surviving a tough challenge in its final tune-up, Wichita State seems ready to extend the school's best start into the Missouri Valley Conference slate.

The eighth-ranked Shockers will also try to match the longest winning streak in the program's 108-year history as they open league play at Southern Illinois on Thursday night.

Wichita State (13-0) was certainly tested Sunday, needing Cleanthony Early's tip-in and Fred VanVleet's 3-pointer to key a decisive run en route to an 81-70 victory over stubborn Davidson.

''Those guys aren't going to quit; you've got to beat them,'' coach Gregg Marshall said. ''That win will look a lot better later this season.''

Now Marshall's squad has a chance to equal the school record set during the 1953-54 season with their 14th straight victory in the MVC opener against the Salukis (4-9).

The Shockers' aggressive style helped them reach season highs with 28 made free throws and 41 attempts Sunday. They've gotten to the foul line 75 times in their last two games and rank among the top 25 nationally with 20.6 free throws made per game.

"The difference in the game was we were able to drive it better,'' Marshall said. ''That got us to the line. Forty-one free throws is a lot for us.''

Cleanthony Early, scoring a team-best 16.0 per game, hit five of six free-throw attempts on the way 24 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double. He's made 20 of 22 from the foul line while averaging 22.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in his last three games.

The senior forward had a career-high 39 points with five 3-pointers in an 82-76 win over visiting Southern Illinois on Jan. 9, but managed only seven points while missing six of nine shots in a 64-62 loss in Carbondale on Feb. 5.

SIU's Jalen Pendleton scored the final six points in that meeting, including a short go-ahead jumper with two seconds left. The sophomore guard is playing well heading into this contest, averaging 18.0 points and 58.5 percent shooting in his last three games.

While the Salukis had their season-best two-game winning streak snapped in a 67-65 loss at Miami of Ohio on Sunday, they've averaged 74.0 points and 53.4 percent shooting while winning three of four at home.

"Especially in (MVC) play, it's so difficult to win road games," associate coach Tom Hankins said. "Our guys believe they can pull one off."

Although the Shockers allowed a season-high 11 3-pointers, they limited Davidson to 42.9 percent shooting and converted 15 turnovers into 18 points.

Tekele Cotton, the team's top defender, helped hold Brian Sullivan to eight points and 2-of-10 shooting. Sullivan had scored a career-high 33 in Davidson's previous game, a 97-85 overtime loss to then-No. 14 North Carolina on Dec. 21.

Cotton could be assigned to another talented scorer in SIU's Desmar Jackson, who finished with 27 points against the RedHawks. Jackson, averaging a team-high 20.8 points, scored 28 in Wichita last season before finishing with 11 on 5-of-14 shooting in the home win over the Shockers.

Salukis coach Barry Hinson is expected to return to the bench after he missed the Miami of Ohio game following the death of his son-in-law.

Wichita State is the highest-ranked team to visit SIU Arena since Larry Bird's then-No. 2 Indiana State team beat the Salukis 69-68 on Feb. 15, 1979. SIU hasn't beaten a top 10 team since defeating then-No. 2 Louisville on Jan. 11, 1967.

The Shockers have won six of the past eight meetings.

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