St. Louis, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-seeded Wichita State Shockers will attempt to keep their historic season alive on Saturday afternoon, as they take on the fourth-seeded Missouri State Bears in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at the Scottrade Center.
Awaiting the winner of this contest in the championship game will be the survivor of the Indiana State/Southern Illinois matchup.
Missouri State began its tournament stay on Friday when it dismissed fifth- seeded Illinois State, 53-48, to improve to 20-11 overall, it first 20-win campaign since 2010-11. The Bears are now winners of three of their last four.
Wichita State's unblemished campaign continued on Friday afternoon when the team dismissed Evansville, 80-58, for its fourth straight victory of at least 20 points. The Shockers were the first team since Saint Joseph's in 2003-04 to enter postseason play undefeated, and they are just two wins shy of the NCAA- record winning streak of 34 set by UNLV during the 1990-91 campaign.
The teams met up in the regular-season finale, with Wichita State making easy work of Missouri State at home last Saturday, 68-45. The Shockers have now won seven in a row over the Bears to improve to 34-30 all time.
The Bears trailed by one late in their contest on Friday but pulled away thanks to a 8-2 run, and while they shot only 32.7 percent from the floor on the afternoon, they held Illinois State to an even worse 31.4 percent. They also won the rebounding battle, 45-36. Austin Ruder was the spark plug with a career-high-tying 21 points, shooting 6-of-12 from 3-point range in the process. No one else registered in double figures, but Keith Pickens (14 rebounds) and Jarmar Gulley (10) both pulled down double-digit boards.
Despite Missouri State's impressive record this season, it has barely scored more points per game (69.6) than it has allowed (68.3 ppg), and it actually gets outshot from the floor by its opponents, 44.4 percent to 43.5 percent. Gulley is the unquestioned leader in terms of on-the-court production, as he nets 14.7 ppg, grabs 6.5 rpg and swipes 1.7 spg, all while shooting nearly 46 percent from the field. Ruder (9.0 ppg) has been impressive from beyond the arc, knocking down 71 3-pointers at a 42.3 percent clip.
After exchanging a few leads with Evansville early in their quarterfinal-round matchup, the Shockers pulled away by 10 at halftime and cruised to the 22- point victory from there, as they outshot the Purple Eagles from the field, 50.9 percent to 36.8 percent, and scored 17 points off a 12 UE turnovers. Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker both poured in 17 points in the triumph on a combined 12-of-19 field goal shooting. Tekele Cotton and Chadrack Lufile scored 11 points apiece, while Kadeem Coleby was a factor on the defensive end of the court with six blocks.
On the season, Wichita State has been blowing teams out left and right, which is accurately portrayed with its outstanding +15.5 scoring margin, as it shoots 45.7 percent from the field for 75.4 ppg while allowing just 59.9 ppg on 39.4 percent shooting. The team also lives in the green with its rebounding (+8.1) and turnover (+1.9) margins. Early paces the squad in both scoring (15.8 ppg) and rebounding (5.9 rpg) on greater than 46 percent shooting, while Baker (13.1 ppg), Fred VanVleet (11.9 ppg, 5.3 apg) and Cotton (10.4 ppg) have also been strong.