Shockers and Sycamores seek MVC title

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Updated: 3/09 6:59 am

St. Louis, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-seeded Wichita State Shockers will try to match a 23-year old record on Sunday afternoon when they take on the second-seeded Indiana State Sycamores in the championship bout of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at the Scottrade Center.

After taking care of business against Loyola-Chicago in the quarterfinals, 75-62, Indiana State earned a berth in the title game by edging out Southern Illinois in the semifinals, 62-59. Although the Sycamores have played second- fiddle to Wichita State in the MVC all season long, they have pieced together an excellent campaign in their own right with a 23-9 record.

Wichita State's stay in the tournament has gone as expected with blowout victories over Evansville (80-58) and Missouri State (67-42) en route to the championship game, giving it seven straight victories of 20 points or more. The Shockers are a perfect 33-0 on the season and are one game shy of tying the 1990-91 UNLV squad for the longest winning streak to begin a campaign, and they haven't lost since falling to eventual-champion Louisville in last year's Final Four.

The Shockers swept Indiana State in two games during the regular season, winning by a combined 27 points. Wichita State has won 11 of the last 13 meetings to take a 53-29 lead all time.

Although the Sycamores trailed by one heading into intermission in semifinal round, they scored the first bucket of the second half and never gave up the lead down the stretch as they held on for the three-point victory. They shot a modest 43.8 percent from the field on the afternoon, but they held SIU to only 38.8 percent shooting. Jake Odum knocked down 5-of-11 from the floor and had an active day at the free-throw line (10-of-15) on his way to 20 points, while Justin Gant and Manny Arop netted 13 and 10 points, respectively.

On the season, Indiana State has performed well on both ends of the court, shooting greater than 45 percent from the field for 71.3 ppg, while allowing just 67.6 ppg. Odum is the leading scorer with 13.3 ppg and boasts an excellent assist (142) to turnover (60) ratio. Rounding out the balanced squad are Khristian Smith (10.6 ppg), Arop (10.7 ppg), Gant (10.0 ppg) and Dawon Cummings (9.9 ppg).

The Shockers were their usual dominant self in Saturday's semifinals, as they carried a comfortable 14-point lead into intermission on their way to the 25- point triumph. They outshot Missouri State from the field, 50 percent to 31.9 percent, and earned convincing margins in both the rebounding (35-28) and turnover (12-9) battles. Cleanthony Early paced the winning effort with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field (including 3-of-6 from 3-point range). Tekele Cotton netted 13 points, while Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet scored nine apiece.

Wichita State's offense has been stellar this season, as it shoots 46 percent from the field and 73 percent at the free-throw line for 75.2 ppg, but the main reason for its status as one of the nation's elite has been the play of its defense, which holds opposing teams to just 39.2 percent shooting and 59.3 ppg, the latter ranking in the top-10 nationally. Early puts up 16.0 ppg and 5.9 rpg while boasting impressive percentages from the field (.472), 3-point range (.365) and the foul line (.841). Baker brings 13.1 ppg to the table, while VanVleet (11.8 ppg, 5.3 apg, 1.9 spg) and Cotton (10.5 ppg) have also been impressive.

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