St. Louis, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - Quarterfinal round action of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament kicks off on Friday with a matchup between the ninth-seeded Southern Illinois Salukis and the No. 8-ranked and top-seeded Wichita State Shockers at the Scottrade Center.
The winner of this clash advances to the semifinal round of the league tournament to face the winner of fifth-seeded Evansville and fourth-seeded Illinois State.
Southern Illinois had lost five straight games before a season-ending victory against Drake snapped the slide. The Salukis have now put together back-to- back wins after Thursday's opening-round win over Missouri State, 55-48
Wichita State once again ran through the regular season and finished the 2014-15 campaign with a 27-3 overall record, nearly completing a perfect conference slate with a 17-1 mark in the league. The Shockers enter the tourney on an eight-game win streak, most recently knocking off Northern Iowa, 74-60, on Saturday.
Wichita State and Southern Illinois met twice during the regular season, and neither contest ended well for the Salukis. The Shockers took the first one back in January, 67-55, and then beat SIU on its home court on Feb. 17, 84-62, to complete the regular-season sweep.
Southern Illinois didn't perform especially well on the offensive end Thursday in the first round of the MVC Tournament, but the Salukis stepped it up defensively to contain Missouri State to 35 percent shooting in the contest. Deion Lavender led the way for SIU with 12 points, adding in five rebounds and a perfect 6-of-6 shooting touch from free-throw line. Anthony Beane netted 10 points with six boards and four steals, and Sean O'Brien added 10 points and six rebounds of his own. The Salukis forced 16 Missouri State turnovers in the game, and in turn owned a 16-3 edge in points scored off those giveaways to advance in the bracket.
Beane enters the contest against Wichita State leading the team in scoring at 16.3 ppg on 42.8 percent shooting. His 41 steals are also a team best, and in 134 attempts at the free-throw line, he's hitting 81.3 percent of the time. Jordan Caroline is the next closest to double figures in terms of scoring, adding in 9.4 ppg for a team netting just 60.1 ppg. Defensively, SIU is allowing 62.1 ppg to opponents on 44.5 percent shooting. In the last meeting against the Shockers, SIU allowed Wichita State to shoot 58.3 percent from the floor and get double-digit scoring from four outlets in the 22-point Shockers victory in Carbondale.
In a regular-season finale battle that pitted the top two (and only two ranked) teams in the Missouri Valley together, Wichita State left little doubt that at home, the Shockers are nearly unbeatable. Wichita State defeated Northern Iowa at home by connecting on 49.1 percent of its field-goal tries in the contest, including 11-of-24 from 3-point range. All five starters for the Shockers scored in double figures, led by Ron Baker's 17 points and seven assists. Fred VanVleet added 13 points with seven assists and six rebounds to help out the cause, while Darius Carter, Even Wessel and Tekele Cotton all chipped in with 11 points apiece. Cotton led the team in rebounding with eight boards in the game.
It was a breakout season for Baker, who led the Shockers in scoring with 15.2 ppg. The redshirt junior guard padded a strong stat line that also included 4.5 rpg, 71 assists, 23 blocked shots and 35 steals, all while Baker hit on 44.8 percent of his shots from the field. VanVleet had a stellar campaign himself, netting 12.5 ppg with a team- and conference-best 5.4 apg with 54 steals. Carter rounded out the team's trio of double-digit scorers in the regular season at 11.5 ppg, notching a team-high 5.4 rpg. The Shockers tallied 70.4 ppg this season (bets in the MVC), and used a strong defensive effort to hold their opponents to just 55.9 ppg (second-best in the league behind Northern Iowa).