Illinois State was thinking about a big upset for a while.
After a dominant second half by No. 5 Wichita State at Redbird Arena on Wednesday night, Illinois State was just thinking about how it couldn't stop Cleanthony Early.
Early, Wichita's 6-foot-8 senior All-America candidate, scored 23 points and added 10 rebounds as the Shockers wiped out a three-point halftime deficit and rolled Illinois State 70-55.
Wichita State (20-0, 7-0 Missouri Valley Conference) is one of three remaining unbeaten in the country, along with No. 1 Arizona and No. 2 Syracuse.
Illinois State (11-8, 4-3) had won 10 of 13 coming, and is now tied for third in the Valley.
"To beat a team like that, you have to play 40 solid minutes, and we didn't," Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. "We didn't get any loose balls and rebounds in the second half, like we had in the first."
Wichita State becomes the second MVC team to open a season 20-0, joining Larry Bird's Indiana State squad of 1978-79 that reached 33-0 before losing the national championship game to Michigan State.
"I think it's a pretty big accomplishment," WSU's Ryan Baker said, "considering the other team to do it was Indiana State -- and who was on that team. I'm assuming it was Larry Bird, right?"
Illinois State led throughout most of the first half. The Redbirds took a 28-25 lead into intermission on Bobby Hunter's buzzer-beating layup off a full-court set play.
Marshall was asked if he knew his team would come out more aggressive in the second half.
"I hoped," he said. "We haven't had consecutive bad halves all year, knock on wood.
"The biggest thing was, we didn't turn it over against their extended 2-3 zone. In the first half, we didn't score against it. In the second half, we made some plays going to the basket."
None better than the last of Tekele Cotton's 12 points, a thunderous, baseline dunk with 2:55 left that had his teammates searching for superlatives.
"It was indescribable," said Baker, who scored 15 despite 3-of-12 shooting. "I thought they were just going to end the game right there."
"That," Marshall said, "was quite a play by a tremendous, tremendous athlete. It seemed like he never stopped rising. That was just a throw, a throwdown into the rim."
ISU was led by Daishon Knight, who scored eight of his 12 at the line. The Redbirds starters combined for just 11 field goals.
ISU shot 32.2 percent overall (19 of 59).
"I felt we were getting solid shots, with a few forced ones," Muller said.
The Shockers made 11 of 27 from 3-point range compared to just 1 of 25 for Illinois State.
"He's the one who shot well," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said of Early. "The others just shot OK. Six for nine for him is tremendous."
Marshall said he recently moved the 6-foot-8 Early to the wing more on offense, with the shorter Baker operating in the lane against ISU's 2-3 zone.
The defense gave Wichita trouble early.
"We had four or five turnovers in the first four-minute segment," Marshall said, "and 11 in the first half, which is more than we average for a game. If we played the second half like we had the first, we wouldn't have won the game."
They did nothing of the kind. Wichita State had two second-half turnovers and scored 45 points.
"We started playing our brand of basketball," said sophomore point guard Fred Van Vleet, whose six assists and one turnover will keep him second in the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio. "In the first half, we sometimes over-passed."
The Shockers beat ISU 66-47 two weeks earlier at Wichita.