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WICHITA, Kan. – Wichita State went to the Final Four last year, yet there was something missing for that team: a Missouri Valley Conference championship.
This season the Shockers were focused on not letting that happen.
So after No. 3 Wichita State routed Drake 83-54 Saturday night behind Tekele Cotton's 21 points and Darius Carter's 15, the Shockers relished cutting down the nets to celebrate a conference title that seemed like a foregone conclusion some time ago.
"It means a lot, it really does," said point guard Fred VanVleet, who had 15 points and six assists. "It's something we didn't do last year. It's special, and we appreciate it. But, at the same time, we have more goals ahead of us."
Wichita State (29-0, 16-0 Missouri Valley) is the first team to start 29-0 since Illinois in 2004-05 and is two wins away from a perfect regular season. The Shockers cruised despite leading scorer Cleanthony Early being held to a season-low three points and Ron Baker only scoring six, less than half his season average.
Daddy Ugbede scored 14 points, Jordan Daniels had 13 and Aaron Hawley 10 for Drake (14-14, 5-11), which had more turnovers (20) than field goals (18).
Drake coach Ray Giacoletti can compare this season's Wichita State team to that of a year ago. He was an assistant at Gonzaga last season, and the top-seeded Bulldogs lost to the Shockers in the NCAA Tournament.
"It's a much better basketball team now than it was at that time," Giacoletti said. "I've been doing this 29 years and have been around a lot of great teams that try to outscore you and out-talent you. This team tries to out-tough you in every single facet and really doesn't care about the other stuff."
That toughness was flaunted in a 31-4 run Wichita State wrapped around halftime, an onslaught so complete that the Shockers completed the 14-1 portion to start the second half without Drake even attempting a field goal.
After trailing early, the Bulldogs held the Shockers scoreless for over 3 minutes, going on a 9-0 run capped by Hawley's backdoor layup for a 15-14 lead with 9:18 remaining in the first half.
To make matters worse for Wichita State, Early was on the bench with two fouls and Baker soon joined him with his second.
But Wichita State started the game-turning run behind Carter, a reserve who scored four straight before the Shockers started a parade of baskets at the rim.
"I thought Darius gave us a huge lift tonight," Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said. "He was really active."
VanVleet and Cotton had layups. Cotton and Nick Wiggins had back-to-back slams. VanVleet's 3-pointer helped Wichita State lead 31-18 at halftime.
The Shockers roll only gained momentum to start the second half.
After Drake's Seth VanDeest made a free throw, Wichita State scored 14 straight.
Cotton and Carter converted three-point plays to get it started and Carter had another slam.
And Kadeem Coleby and VanVleet put back offensive rebounds, bringing roars from the crowd.
The Shockers led 45-19 with 16:35 remaining, and Drake seemed befuddled. Much of that had to do with Cotton, who had seven steals in the game.
"Was there two Tekele Cottons out there?" Marshall asked, joking. "It sure seemed like it."
Cotton said his approach was simple.
"I just try to get in position where they don't see me," he said. "Sometimes I can get in the passing lanes and get it. Sometimes, I don't."
Hawley ended the run with a 3-pointer 15 seconds later, the Bulldogs' first shot attempt of the half.
After that, the Shockers could sub liberally and soon start celebrating an outright Missouri Valley title, actually clinched earlier in the day when Indiana State lost.
"Hopefully," Marshall said, "this isn't our only championship."