Seeking their first 4-1 start in conference play since the 1999-2000 campaign, the Evansville Purple Aces take their shot against 23rd-ranked Wichita State in Missouri Valley Conference play at the Ford Center on Sunday afternoon.
Since closing out the 2012 calendar year with back-to-back defeats versus Butler and Creighton on the road, the Purple Aces have turned it around with three straight victories. The most recent of those triumphs came last Wednesday versus Northern Iowa on the road in a narrow 62-59 final. As a result, Evansville is now 3-1 in MVC action.
As for the Shockers, a team which is an impressive 15-1 at the moment, they've rattled off six wins in a row since that lone defeat at the hands of Tennessee on the road, 69-60, back on Dec. 13. Trailing only Creighton (5-0) in the conference standings heading into the weekend, Wichita State registered an 82-76 win over Southern Illinois on Wednesday in the most recent contest.
The Shockers have won five straight meetings with Evansville, which means WSU is now ahead by a count of 22-14 in the all-time series.
Against nationally-ranked opponents since the 1948-49 campaign, the Purple Aces have a record of just 14-44, the last victory for the squad coming against 15th-ranked Creighton in this building last season, 65-57.
For the second straight game and third time in the last four, Cleanthony Early led the scoring attack for the Shockers versus SIU with his career-high 39 points. Early went on the attack right out of the gate, scoring the first seven points of the contest and all but one of his team's first 12 points, shooting not just 13-of-19 from the floor but also 5-of-9 behind the 3-point line as well. Ehimen Orukpe came dangerously close to registering an unorthodox triple-double as he logged 10 points, nine rebounds and nine blocked shots for the hosts, while Malcolm Armstead accounted for nine points and nine assists. In the last two games Early has posted a combined 63 points, yet his average is now only up to 15.4 ppg. Carl Hall is listed as the other double-digit scorer for the group with his 13.9 ppg, but he has been out of action since the middle of December due to thumb surgery, which means Early and his teammates have to pick up the pieces on offense. Defensively, this group has limited the competition to only 39.6 percent accuracy from the floor and a mere 59.1 ppg.
Leading by as many as 14 points in the second half, the Purple Aces perhaps thought they'd have an easy time of it against Northern Iowa at the McLeod Center earlier this week, but that wasn't the case. Shooting just 9-of-23 from the floor after the break, Evansville had to rely on 11-of-11 accuracy at the free-throw line in the period to get the squad over the hump. Colt Ryan led all scorers with 21 points, followed by Troy Taylor with 11 and seven rebounds for the visitors. In conference play Ryan has generated 21.3 ppg, connecting on all 20 of his attempts at the charity stripe. The team as a whole has feasted at the line where they are 88.7 percent accurate in these four league bouts, but still they are outscoring the competition by just 1.6 ppg. Lewis Jones is responsible for 10.5 ppg, and Taylor nearly averages a double-double against MVC foes with his 9.3 ppg and team-best 10.8 rpg.