Cleanthony Early scores 23 points as Wichita State rolls over Cal Poly
ST. LOUIS - The NCAA Selection committee made the road to the title as difficult as possible for undefeated Wichita State by loading the Midwest region with quality opponents. But the top-seeded Shockers caught one break when Cal Poly, a bottom-feeder in the Big West Conference, miraculously played its way into the NCAA Tournament with a losing record.
The Shockers ran up a 19-point first-half lead and coasted to a 64-37 victory in their second-round opener while resting many of their key players in the second half Friday night at Scottrade Center. The rout gave Wichita State a 35-0 record, breaking a tie with the 1991 UNLV team for the best start in NCAA history.
"Going 35-0 means a lot to the program," said senior Nick Wiggins, older brother of Kansas star Andrew Wiggins. "It shows how far the program has come, and we're not done yet."
Cal Poly (14-20), which was led by Maliik Love's nine points, scored the opening basket and trailed only 6-5 just under five minutes into the game. But Cleanthony Early scored nine points in a 17-0 Wichita run, and it was all downhill from there for the Mustangs, who were held to 20.7 percent shooting.
"Once we started playing Wichita State basketball, playing angry," Wiggins added, "they couldn't stop us."
WSU advanced to the third round against the winner of Friday night's late game matching eighth-seeded Kentucky, the preseason No. 1 choice in the polls, against ninth-seeded Kansas State. That figured to be a knockdown, drag-out battle, so, the Shockers should come into Sunday's third-round game as the fresh team.
Leading scorer Early totaled 19 of his 23 points in the first half and made only a couple of cameo appearances in the second half while playing 19 minutes. Guard Tekele Cotton was scoreless but in just 19 minutes, and his backcourt partners Fred Van Vleet (four points, 28 minutes) and Ron Baker (seven points, 27 minutes) also were not extended.
The Shockers were also coming into the game off a 12-day layoff since winning the Missouri Valley Tournament in the same building.
"With the extra time off, we got our bodies back and a little rest," Cotton said. "Those two weeks were well-needed."