In what was its biggest remaining test in staying undefeated for the regular season, No. 4 Wichita State went into the Hulman Center and defeated Indiana State, 65-58, to claim its 24th consecutive victory.
Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton couldn't help but look ahead:
Was unlikely to be easy, and Wichita State grinds its way to 24-0. Shockers win 65-58...is the path cleared to run the table?— Brian Hamilton (@BrianHamiltonSI) February 6, 2014
The Shockers got a balanced effort on offense, played a physical game on defense and underwent the necessary adjustments from Gregg Marshall at halftime to build a lead before holding on for the narrow victory.
Those adjustments came in the form of Cleanthony Early and Manny Arop.
Indiana State was able to control the talented Wichita State big man in the first half, holding him to just four points on two field-goal attempts. And on the other side of the court, Arop was hardly containable, pouring in 13 points on eight shots.
After the Gonzaga transfer drilled a three—which was later changed to a two—at the buzzer, the Sycamores entered the locker room down by just a point.
CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello could hardly contain his excitement:
Wichita State and Indiana State tied at halftime. OH BOY.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) February 6, 2014
But what Marshall said at halftime worked wonders.
Wichita State's offense began running through Early, who scored the Shockers' first five points of the second half. After a couple of Tekele Cotton buckets, he knocked down three free throws to extend the Shockers' lead to 50-39 with 12:34 remaining, which would be too much for the Sycamores to overcome.
Early finished with a game-high 19 points, while Cotton poured in 14 of his own to go with three rebounds, five assists and a steal.
As is often the case, though, the Shockers won this game on the defensive end. After Arop scored on the first possession of the half, he didn't score again until he hit a free throw with 45 seconds remaining. And although the Sycamores entered the locker room shooting just below 50 percent from the field, they finished the game at a mere 32.1 percent.
ISU: you showed me a great time tonight, but your basketball team is as frustrating as every other team in Indiana. So many blown chances...— Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) February 6, 2014
Fred VanVleet was his typically bothersome self, racking up three steals, while Chadrack Lufile came off the bench to tally nine defensive rebounds (10 total) and a block.
When will Wichita State lose this year?
Give the Sycamores credit, though. Despite a mostly shaky second half, they fought back in front of a raucous Terre Haute crowd.
But Dawon Cummings' free throw to cut the lead to 58-56 with two minutes remaining was as close as they would get, as Early converted a three-point play on the next possession to put the game out of reach.
Arop finished with 16 points for Indiana State, while Jake Odum and Khristian Smith each had 11.
Cleanthony Early, Wichita State: A-
As we eluded to, it was a quiet first half for the Shockers' leading scorer, as Early hardly got any touches in the first 20 minutes. But Marshall's game plan for the second half was clear: get Early the ball.
And it worked.
The senior forward was fantastic in the second half. He was a major reason why Wichita State built its double-digit lead, and his clutch late bucket helped close out the Sycamores. Whenever he got the ball deep in the post, Indiana State had no answer defensively.
In addition to his 19 points, Early finished with five rebounds, an assist and a steal.
Manny Arop, Indiana State: B
Indiana State entered the game with a remarkably balanced scoring attack—five players averaged at least 11.0 points per game and no one averaged more than 12.3.
But for much of Wednesday night, the offense went through Arop.
The Gonzaga transfer, who had just four points on six shots against the Shockers last month, scored from the post, by attacking the hoop and from the outside.
Unfortunately, most of that came in the first half. In the second half, he was stifled defensively and missed a couple of key free throws.
Ron Baker, Wichita State: B+
Baker didn't have his best offensive night. He scored eight points, but those came on eight shots, as he hit just one of his four three-point attempts. He also had two rebounds and three assists.
More importantly, though, his impact was felt on the defensive end.
After Arop absolutely took over to end the first half, Baker stepped up his intensity, serving as the primary defender on the Canadian and forcing him into several difficult shots.
Update on Wichita State-Indiana State. Gregg Marshall basically told Ron Baker that he can't let Manny Arop breathe. Now Arop can't breathe.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) February 6, 2014
With mostly Baker guarding him, Arop went 1-of-7 from the field in the second half.
Jake Odum, Indiana State: B+
Odum is a real joy to watch. He doesn't have a lot of size for a guard at 6'4", but he can beat most defenders off the dribble and finish at the hoop.
That was once again true on Wednesday, as he shot 5-of-12 for 11 points and proved to be one of the only players capable of doing damage against Wichita State's tough defense.
He also added six rebounds and four assists in an all-around effort.
The Shockers head to Cedar Falls to take on Northern Iowa on Saturday (Feb. 8), while the Sycamores stay home and host Drake a day later.