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Wichita State Rolls into Semifinals

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As time wound down during their 80 to 58 drubbing of No. 9 Evansville, the Wichita State band cued up their signature song for the thousands of Shocker faithful in attendance at the ScottTrade Center.

“You don’t want to go to war with the Shockers. Don’t start no stuff, won’t be no stuff.”

The players on the Shocker bench subtly sang and danced along in approval as they pushed their season record to 32-0, remaining the only undefeated team in the nation.

That day, sophomore star D.J. Balentine of the Purple Aces tried to start some ‘stuff’ with the top-seeded Shockers. He carried over his hot hand from his 30-point performance the night before by quickly posting 17 in the first half. That stretch included nailing four three-pointers from ranges so deep that it would make Jimmer Fredette proud.

But as the song clearly states, if you start some ‘stuff,’ you’re going to get plenty of it in return from the Shockers. In this case, it was literal stuffs that they threw back in the face of the Purple Aces.

The Shockers made life in the paint miserable for Evansville, piling up six team blocks in the first half alone. They finished with 11, a new Missouri Valley Conference team record.

Forward Kadeem Coleby anchored the stout Shocker defense, tallying a career-high six blocks of his own.

The Shockers couldn’t fully shut down Balentine, who ended his day with 31 points on 21 shots. But their aggressive defense near the basket rendered every other Evansville player ineffective, and it also forced Balentine to take much tougher shots every time he entered the paint.

Sophomore center Egidijus Mockevicius was the only other Purple Ace in double figures, silently collecting 11 points to go along with 11 rebounds. It was the second straight double-double for Mockevicius, but don’t let the numbers fool you: most of his stats came by the time the game was well out of reach.

While Evansville is clearly driven by one man and one man alone, the Shockers continue to excel by being unselfish and relying on each other.

Four players posted 11 points or more; senior Cleanthony Early and sophomore Ron Baker led the way with 17 point apiece. The Shockers dictated the tempo of their offense almost at will. While the highlight reels will show a few high-flying dunks in transition toward the end of the game, the bread and butter for the Shockers came in their execution of their half court sets.

Consistent execution in the fundamentals is much easier said than done, but it’s a quality the Shockers show on a nightly basis. Each pass is crisp; each pick set is effective; and the majority of their possessions ended with the Shockers getting exactly the type of shot that they wanted.

It’s not as if the Shockers shot the lights out, either: they went 28-55 from the field, which is just over 50%, and they missed 11 three-pointers.

But the Shockers have seemingly mastered the art of looking past the previous play, good or bad, and re-focusing on executing during the possession at hand.

An interesting dynamic emerged during this game that mirrors a current trend in the NCAA: a solid team effort will beat the production of a single stud any day of the week. Balentine may have made some jaws drop with his one-man show, but no matter how many shots he took, he wasn’t able to make up for a lack of production from the other four players who were on the court with him.

The Shockers, on the other hand, fully rely on each other and expect their teammates to bring a certain caliber of play to the floor every time they step on it. On any given night, it could be a different player leading the team in points, or any stat category.

Baker believes that unselfish nature has driven this team to new heights.

“That’s kind of just how I was raised, unselfish individual,” Baker said. “When I got here, that’s what we’re all about. I don’t know if it was luck or destiny or whatever you want to call it. This team is very unselfish. If we continue to play like that, I like our chances.”

That team dynamic has propelled the Shockers to the No. 2 rank in the nation. They’re only the fifth team in NCAA history to start the season with a winning streak of 32 games or more. Similarly, they’re the fifth team in MVC history to post 32+ wins in a single season.

But just like the team erases the previous play from their mind while on the floor, point guard and MVC Player of the Year Fred VanVleet says the team thinks about the winning streak in the same way.

“Our new streak is 1-0. One and done,” VanVleet said. “Now we got one. Can’t get to three without getting two, so that’s what our focus is, and we’ll try to get that one tomorrow.”

The Shockers will move on to play the No. 4 Missouri State Bears on Saturday.

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