ST. LOUIS — For Wichita State fans who were chanting “undefeated” in the last minute of Sunday’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament finals, it was another step into the NCAA Division I record books.
For Tekele Cotton, the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player, it was simply a day where the No. 2 Shockers checked off another box on their to-do list.
“The next one’s the NCAA Tournament,” said the junior guard after Wichita State completed an 83-69 defeat of Indiana State at Scottrade Center to win its first MVC tourney in 27 seasons.
Point guard Fred VanVleet tallied a game-high 22 points and dished out five assists, while Cotton added 20 points, matching VanVleet’s 4-of-6 production from the 3-point line. Guard Ron Baker netted 14, while forward Cleanthony Early and center Darius Carter each scored 10 points.
The Shockers became just the second team in Division I history to start a season 34-0, joining the 1990-91 UNLV squad which was stunned by Duke in a national semifinal, denying it a second straight championship.
Like Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels, Wichita State will probably start the NCAA tourney as a No. 1 seed, likely back in St. Louis on March 21. That’s just fine with coach Gregg Marshall.
“We’re familiar with the building, the surroundings, the city,” he said. “There won’t be an ooh-and-ah factor when you go into a new place for the first time. Hopefully, we can win a couple of games here and move on to the next stop.”
If the Shockers shoot the ball then like they did this weekend, they might return to the Final Four in April. They canned better than 48 percent of their field-goal attempts in their three MVC games, including 44.4 percent of their 3-pointers, and won by an average margin of 20.3 points.
Cotton was scalding hot from the arc, converting 10 of 15 during the MVC tourney and averaging 14.7 points per game. Known as an athlete who can defend but wasn’t a great shooter, Cotton is forcing opponents to revise the page on his scouting report.
“I want people to guard me, not sag off me,” he said. “If they guard me and don’t sag off me, I’m a harder person to guard.”
Cotton’s 3-pointer from the left corner gave Wichita State its first double-figure lead at 21-11 with 10:39 left in the first half. He drilled another 3 from the left corner at the 12:31 mark of the second half to restore a 10-point lead at 53-43.
That came off one of just nine Sycamores turnovers. The Shockers made the most of their opponents’ mistakes, scoring 21 points.
“They’re probably the best in the country at that,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said of Wichita State’s ability to capitalize on turnovers. “When you have the guards they do and big men that run like sprinters … early runs like a 100-meter dash man. And they get 3-point plays off those because they’re so strong.”
Guard Manny Arop and center Justin Gant each scored 18 points for the Sycamores (23-10), whose at-large resume probably isn’t stout enough to land an NCAA at-large bid.
Indiana State drew within 55-50 with 10:20 remaining when point guard Jake Odum sank two foul shots. But Odum picked up his fourth foul 12 seconds later and sat out for nearly 2 1/2 minutes.
By the time he returned, the Sycamores trailed 62-50 and were swimming upstream for the day’s remainder.
“Basketball is a game of runs. Everyone knows that,” Lansing said. “They’re as good as anyone of making a 13-0 run, like they did today.”
NOTES: Wichita State’s average winning margin of 15.9 points per game is the best in school history. … Indiana State G Jake Odum extended his school records for most games played (132) and starts (129). … If the Shockers win the NCAA tourney, they will join the 2012-13 Baylor women as the only teams in Division I history to go 40-0.
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