WICHITA, Kan. - Wichita State jumped out to a big early lead, then proceeded to dispatch Southern Illinois in workmanlike fashion, 67-55, on Wednesday night at sold-out Charles Koch Arena.
The No. 13-ranked Shockers (15-2, 5-0) won their 23rd-straight Missouri Valley Conference game, breaking the modern record for consecutive league wins that, ironically, SIU established by winning 22 in a row in 2003 and 2004.
Losers of seven-straight games, the Salukis (7-11, 0-5) are off to their worst start in conference play since 1987, but there were positives even in defeat. Freshman guard Deion Lavender of Marquette Catholic High School in Alton scored a career-high 15 points, while center Bola Olaniyan chipped in 12 points and 10 rebounds. After being held scoreless in the first half, Anthony Beane finished with 10 points.
The outcome was never in doubt, as WSU delivered a swift knock-down punch, scoring the first nine points of the game. The run was punctuated by a one-handed tomahawk dunk by Darius Carter. The 6-foot-7 forward was a beast inside all night for the Shockers, piling up 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting. The only thing that stopped him was an inadvertent poke in the eye from SIU guard K.C Goodwin that sent Carter to the bench for the final six minutes of the game. By that point they didn't need him.
"(Carter) was tremendous -- made great moves, and was finishing closer than he caught it," praised Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall. "I thought we were really good offensively coming out of the gate. We're finally getting guys to roll hard to the basket, be aggressive once they set the screen."
The Shockers shot 65 percent from the field in the first half, led 38-22 at halftime, and their precise execution of the pick and roll was a sight to behold. The back court trio of Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Fred VanVleet combined to dish out 14 assists -- many of them to Carter for easy looks at the basket.
"You have to make a choice," said SIU head coach Barry Hinson. "You have to decide who is going to beat you and who's not. They ran two or three sets tonight, over and over and over, and we didn't do a good job adjusting to those. It's really hard to help on (Carter) when you have Baker over there in the corner."
About the only thing WSU didn't do well was shoot the ball from three -- where they were only 2-of-12.
"When (Carter) gets the ball in the post, it opens up the floor for kick-outs and open threes," Marshall explained. "We had some great looks at three tonight. We have to knock them down."
Wichita State lived up to its trademark "Play Angry" style. On a loose ball midway through the first half, four Shockers players dove on the floor at the same time to secure a ball that ended up in the hands of Baker -- the only player in yellow and black who was still standing upright at the time.
Southern's offense labored in the first half, connecting on 8-of-26 shot attempts and committing eight turnovers. The Salukis' top-three scorers on the season -- Anthony Beane, Jordan Caroline and Sean O'Brien -- were a non-factor with only two points combined in the half.
Lavender picked up the scoring slack with what was easily his best night in a Saluki uniform. He hit one 3-pointer and made several impressive slashing moves to the basket for lay-ins. The freshman guard also turned the ball over three times, but Hinson allowed him to play through the miscues.
"The one thing we saw with Deion tonight was he did not hesitate to go score," Hinson said. "We know that's what that kid can do. Tonight, I made up my mind we're just going to live through the turnovers."
Beane had another rough night from the field, converting 4-of-12 shots, including 0-for-4 from 3-point. He started to find his range by making four mid-range jumpers in the second half, but in five MVC contests this season, he's 1-for-25 from outside the arc.
"Anthony Beane is going to have to make a three sometime in the New Year," Hinson deadpanned. "I've never seen a stat like that. You cannot shoot the ball any worse and it's completely a mental issue."
The Salukis out-rebounded the Shockers, 34-30, thanks in large part to Olaniyan's fourth-career double-double. He grabbed five offensive rebounds.
Wichita State led by double figures the entire second half and went deep into its bench by playing all 14 players who dressed. The Saluki offense at least showed some signs of life, though, by scoring 33 second-half points and converting 47 percent of its shots.
"I thought in the second half you saw a better basketball team -- I thought our kids competed," Hinson said. "We started two freshmen and two sophomores tonight and we knew it would be a difficult environment for them."