Wichita St.-Evansville Preview
Four days after producing one of the best performances in school history, Wichita State's Cleanthony Early hopes the magic lasts a little longer.
Early will try to build on his historic effort Sunday when the 23rd-ranked Shockers look to stay atop the Missouri Valley Conference with a win at Evansville.
Early had 39 points on Wednesday in a come-from-behind 82-76 victory over Southern Illinois in the Shockers' first contest since returning to the national rankings for the second time this season.
He was 13 of 19 from the field, including 5 of 9 from beyond the arc, and finished with the most points by a Wichita State player since Xavier McDaniel had 43 against Bradley on Jan. 10, 1985. It was also the fifth-highest scoring game in the NCAA this season.
"I just found a way to get it going," said Early, who led the Shockers (15-1, 4-0) to their sixth straight win.
After averaging 13.1 points on 45.8 percent shooting in his first 14 games, the junior forward has totaled 63 points while shooting 63.6 percent in his last two. He has also hit 12 of 19 (63.2 percent) from 3-point range in his last three contests.
"He's unbelievably talented. He's a tremendous athlete and can score in a lot of ways," coach Gregg Marshall said. "(He) has so much room to continue to grow as a player and get better. That's good for him and good for us."
Early's emergence has helped the Shockers recover from the loss of second-leading scorer Carl Hall (13.9 points per game). The senior forward hasn't played since scoring 21 in a 69-60 loss at Tennessee on Dec. 13 because of a broken thumb.
Senior center Ehimen Orupke has stepped up defensively, with 12 blocked shots in the past two games. He finished with seven against the Salukis, the most by a Wichita State player since Antoine Carr had seven in 1981.
The Shockers have the MVC's top-ranked defense at 59.1 points per game, and will take on an Evansville team averaging 82.5 points during a four-game home winning streak.
The Purple Aces (10-6, 3-1) are trying for their first 4-1 start in league play since 1999-2000, and are also seeking their fourth straight victory after suffering back-to-back losses at No. 14 Butler and No. 13 Creighton last month.
Wichita State has to find a way to contain high-scoring senior Colt Ryan, who is just 53 points shy of breaking into the top 20 of the MVC's all-time scoring list. Ryan has averaged 21.3 points while hitting all 20 of his free throw attempts in four conference games after scoring a game-high 21 points in a 62-59 win at Northern Iowa on Wednesday.
Ryan has combined for 53 points and shot 8 for 15 from 3-point range in his last two at home against the Shockers. Evansville has dropped both of those games, however, and has lost five straight in the series overall.