Wichita, KS (SportsNetwork.com) - One of the last of the unbeatens in Division I basketball, the sixth-ranked Wichita State Shockers put their unblemished record on the line tonight as they clash with the Illinois State Redbirds in Missouri Valley Conference action at Koch Arena.
Wichita State is not completely new to this lofty position in the national polls, having ascended to the top spot in December of 1964 and placing as high as second as recently as the 1981-82 campaign. The team is off to the best start in program history, and is also enjoying its longest overall win streak at 15 games. On Sunday, the Shockers won by double digits for the fourth game in a row with a 67-53 victory over Northern Iowa at home.
As for the Redbirds, they too were in action on Sunday, clashing with visiting Southern Illinois, as they held the Salukis to a season-low 48 points in an 18-point victory at Redbird Arena. The win was the third in the last four outings for the program and moved it to 5-2 at home.
Despite the status of the Shockers at the moment, the all-time series between these two teams favors Illinois State by a scant 37-36 margin. However, Wichita State did win the most recent meeting last March, 66-51.
Zach Lofton scored 18 points as the Illinois State Redbirds delivered a 66-48 win over SIU on Sunday afternoon. Also scoring in double figures for the Redbirds was Bobby Hunter with 15 points, hitting all seven of his free-throw attempts off the bench for a team that has now won five straight games at home. Defensively, the Redbirds held the visitors to just 17 field goals against 14 turnovers, and a mere 3-of-14 showing behind the 3-point line.
Lofton, who has come off the bench in half of the team's 14 games this season, is second on the unit in scoring with 11.7 ppg, thanks mostly to his 85.0 percent effort at the free-throw line. Unfortunately, Lofton has made a mere 30.7 percent of his field goals and 28.0 percent beyond the arc. Daishon Knight (14.2 ppg) paces the program in scoring overall, but he too has had his troubles from the field with only 37.6 percent shooting. Granted, his 34.7 percent out on the perimeter is much better than Lofton's, but still the team as a whole comes in at only 33.6 percent from the outside.
The meeting with UNI started out rather rough for the Shockers, falling behind by double digits in the first half as they shot just 33.3 percent from the floor, but the hosts regained their footing, led by eight at the break and then held on for the win. Fred VanVleet posted a team-best 22 points on 8- of-12 shooting from the field, while Cleanthony Early tacked on 18 points and seven rebounds in order to combat his four turnovers. Wichita State suffered only six miscues the entire game, helping to overcome a mere 6-of-25 showing from behind the 3-point line.
VanVleet, who on Monday was named the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week, shot close to 62 percent from the field as he averaged 19.5 ppg in the team's two victories last week. After 15 games, VanVleet is third on the team in scoring with 12.4 ppg, trailing Early (16.6 ppg) and Ron Baker (13.1 ppg). The fourth on the list of double-digit scorers for the Shockers is Tekele Cotton with his 10.3 ppg, although his 29.4 percent accuracy beyond the arc falls far below the efforts of the other three offensive performers. As a team, WSU has made good on just 32.9 percent out on the perimeter, yet that's still better than the 31.0 percent by the competition.