WICHITA, Kan. — The regular season belongs to Wichita State.
The second-ranked Shockers completed a historic run to 31-0 on Saturday by handling Missouri State 68-45 at Koch Arena. WSU is the first team to go unbeaten in the regular season since Saint Joseph’s (27-0) in 2003-04 and the first team to reach 31-0 without postseason play.
With that done, the Shockers (30-0, 18-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference) can focus on March, which is how most of the country will judge their landmark season.
Wichita State is the No. 1 seed in the MVC tournament, which begins Thursday in St. Louis. Three more wins, perhaps two, and they will probably grab a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
If Saturday’s performance is an indication, Wichita State is ready for March.
The Shockers buried Missouri State (19-11, 9-9) early with a no-letdown defensive effort. The Shockers led, 8-1, and things never got better for the Bears, who trailed, 39-21, at halftime.
Wichita State savored the accomplishment, while beginning to look ahead. No other NCAA Division I team has won 31 games in the regular season.
The Shockers are the first MVC team to survive the conference schedule unbeaten since Bradley went 16-0 in 1985-86. Oklahoma, in 1927-28, is the only other MVC team to go 18-0.
“Today was a beautiful day for the history of basketball,” Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet said. “We’ve still got more games to play. We’ve still got film study. We’ve still got practice.”
Forward Cleanthony Early led Wichita State with 19 points and guard Ron Baker added 13.
Wichita State shot 51.2 percent from the field and outscored the Bears, 19-9, at the foul line. The Shockers held Missouri State to 31.4 percent shooting (16-of-51) and out-rebounded the Bears, 43-25.
“That was pretty special,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “This group really enjoys a challenge. They enjoy one-and-done basketball, like we’re going into now.”
Forward Jarmar Gulley led the Bears with 15 points.
“They really defend,” Missouri State coach Paul Luks said. “We had no answers tonight and we couldn’t do anything from an offensive standpoint.
“We struggled to score on the blocks. We struggled to score everywhere.”
Wichita State made seven of its first eight shots, each one pushing the crowd to scream more loudly, while building an 18-6 lead.
Early made two 3-pointers during the run, and Baker and VanVleet dissected Missouri State’s zone with passes to big men for easy baskets in the lane.
“After that first stop, I don’t think I’ve heard Koch Arena as loud as I did tonight,” Baker said. “They know basketball so well; they cheer for the little things.”
Wichita State’s defense took away every move the Bears tried to make, keeping the ball out of the lane for the most part and contesting almost every jump shot.
Missouri State missed 16 of its first 20 shots to fall behind, 31-12.
“They set the tone with their defense,” Missouri State guard Austin Ruder said. “We started off downhill and didn’t get anything going uphill until the second half.”
After guard Devon Thomas’ layup with 8:45 remaining in the first half, the Bears didn’t make another basket until Ron Mvouika’s three-point play with 2:29 to play.
Wichita State’s offense played without much opposition. The Shockers moved the ball crisply and their big men feasted on strong post-ups and dunks.
The Shockers expanded their lead from 24-10 to 33-12, with the big men doing most of the damage, and led, 39-21, at halftime.
Early scored 13 first-half points, making two 3-pointers and five free throws. Center Darius Carter added eight points off the bench.
NOTES: Wichita State defeated the Bears for the seventh straight time. … Wichita State is the highest-ranked team Missouri State faced in the regular season. … Missouri State guard Austin Ruder, who scored 17 points in the first meeting, scored two and made only 1-of-5 shots.
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