ST. LOUIS — The Shocker Invitational, a.k.a. the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, got underway Friday with a predictable result.
No. 2-ranked Wichita State set a single-game conference tournament record with 11 blocked shots as it notched its third double-figure win of the season over Evansville, an 80-58 decision in the quarterfinals at Scottrade Center.
Forward Cleanthony Early and guard Ron Baker each scored 17 points to lead the top-seeded Shockers (32-0), who will play either No. 4 Missouri State or fifth-seeded Illinois State in Saturday’s first semifinal.
Guard Tekele Cotton and reserve center Chadrack Lufile added 11 points apiece, while starting center Kadeem Coleby rejected a career-high six shots.
Guard D.J. Balentine pumped in a game-high 31 points for the ninth-seeded Purple Aces (14-19), who were playing about 16 hours after eliminating Drake in Thursday night’s tournament opener. Balentine sank 7-of-14 3-pointers.
Center Egidijus Mockevicius contributed an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double, but no one else for Evansville could add much offensively.
Early’s four-point play with 7:57 left in the first half gave Wichita State the lead for good at 23-20. After a turnover, Wichita State scored on seven straight possessions to open up a 39-27 lead with 3:05 remaining. Guard Fred VanVleet capped the 20-7 run with a fast-break layup.
Balentine drew the Aces within 44-36 early in the second half with a 3-pointer, but the Shockers rattled off 12 straight points to end the game’s competitive phase. VanVleet’s 4-point play at the 14:24 mark gave Wichita State its first 20-point lead.
The rest of the game was a foul-plagued slog to the final horn. The teams combined for 23 fouls and 27 free throws in the second half.
NOTES: Wichita State G Fred VanVleet and G Ron Baker, along with F Cleanthony Early, became the first trio from the same team to earn first-team All-MVC honors since 1973. … Evansville C Egidijus Mockevicius led the MVC with a 63.7 percent field-goal percentage, good for seventh in Division I. It’s the second-highest single-season mark in school history. … This was only the second time the Shockers and Purple Aces have ever met in the MVC tourney. Evansville won 79-71 on Feb. 27, 1999, the only season in which it won the MVC regular-season title.
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