CHICAGO — Fred VanVleet put on a perfect show for at least some of the home folks Wednesday.
The Wichita State sophomore guard did not miss a shot while leading the No. 3 Shockers to an 88-74 Missouri Valley Conference victory over the Loyola Ramblers at Gentile Arena.
“I had a lot of family and friends watching me play,” said VanVleet, who hails from Rockford, Ill., just 90 miles from Chicago. “I wanted to play some inspired basketball. My teammates found me in some good spots.”
Van Fleet was 6-for-6 from the field, 10-for-10 on free throws and his 22 points matched season and career highs.
“You can’t feel more confident than I do when he’s got the basketball in his hands,” said Shockers coach Gregg Marshall. “He’s so tough, he’s so smart, he’s so heady.”
The win left the Shockers (28-0, 15-0) the nation’s sole unbeaten major college team and only the 18th team in NCAA men’s Division I history to open a season with that many consecutive wins.
Wichita State could also move up the polls after Boston College beat top-ranked and previously undefeated Syracuse 62-59 in overtime earlier Wednesday.
The Shockers never trailed in the contest and led by as many as 17 points. Still, Marshall and his team are acutely aware of the perils top teams face.
“Every single night in college basketball — when you’re playing a Division I program — is a potential loss, especially on the road,” Marshall said. “These guys find a way. We weren’t perfect tonight but we played well enough to come out with a 14-point win.”
Shockers forward Cleanthony Early scored 18 points, forward Darius Carter had 13 and guard Ron Baker added 10.
The loss was the third straight and sixth in seven games for the Ramblers (9-18, 4-11) as guard Milton Doyle led a balanced attack with 18 points.
Guard Jeff White scored 14 points, guard Devin Turk had 13 and forward Christian Thomas added 12.
Wichita State out-rebounded Loyola 41-24 and went 31 of 34 from the free throw line.
“VanVleet showed why he’s one of the top two, three point guards in the country, he’s almost flawless,” Ramblers coach Porter Moser said.
The Shockers doubled a seven-point halftime lead early in the second half as forward Chadrack Lufile scored six points on consecutive 3-point plays over a span of 1:12 for a 50-36 advantage.
Wichita State led by as many as 17 points at 61-44 with 11:31. Loyola chipped away and cut the margin to 63-53 after Doyle’s 3 point play with 7:09 showing but the Ramblers got no closer.
Wichita State never trailed in the game.
After two early ties, the Shockers went on a 12-4 run, behind Baker’s six points, to open a 16-8 lead. Wichita State extended its edge to 21-12 thanks to 3-pointers from three players.
The Ramblers kept the deficit in single digits and crept within 25-19 on guard Devon Turk’s three-point play. The Shockers repelled the surge and moved into their first double-digit lead at 29-19 on forward Chadrack Lufile’s free throw.
Wichita State then led twice led by 11, but Loyola rallied to trail just 37-32 after five points from White.
Carter’s layup in the final minute pushed Wichita State’s lead to 39-32 at halftime.
“They rebounding was obviously a factor, they out-rebounded us by 17,” Moser said. “(And) they’re phenomenal on capitalizing on your mistakes and they don’t leave you much room for error.
“They are where you want to be.”
The game drew a sellout crowd of 5,200, including several hundred yellow-clad Shockers fans.
NOTES: Wichita State clinched the Missouri Valley Conference tourney’s top seed with the win and could wrap up the conference regular season title on Saturday. … Shockers G Ron Baker was named MVC player of the week after averaging 22.5 points in two games last week. … The Shockers began the night leading the MVC with a 75.1 scoring average, and they were tops on defense with a 60.6-point average. Wichita State F Cleanthony Early was fifth in league scoring with a 16.2-point average. … Wichita State, making its first appearance at Loyola since 1976, was the Ramblers’ highest-ranked foe at Gentile Arena since
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