Day After: N. Carolina Central at Wichita State

WSU’s Tekele Cotton dunks in the second half of Saturday’s game.

Score: Wichita State 71, North Carolina Central 57

Key stats: WSU held the Eagles to 26.9-percent shooting (0 for 8 from three-point range) in the first half on its way to a 36-18 lead.

How the game turned: A three-point play on an offensive rebound by Carl Hall and threes by Ron Baker and Evan Wessel turned a two-point edge into a 25-14 lead. The Eagles got no closer.

Records: NCCU 0-1, WSU 1-0

  • I sat next to Rich Zvsoec, who does MVC and Big 12 games for ESPN and CBS College Sports, during the second half. He came away impressed with Ehimen Orukpe’s improvement on offense. He saw a player who is no longer rushing so much to shoot and is more of a threat. Orukpe doesn’t need to be a big scorer, but he does need to be adequate with his jump hook and moves to the basket. He scored six points (2-of-5 shooting), grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots on Saturday.
  • Forward Cleanthony Early missed 10 of 11 shots in Monday’s exhibition game. He looked more like the Early coaches expect on Saturday. He made 5 of 9 shots and grabbed five rebounds, scoring 10 points. Monday’s poor shooting didn’t bother Early too much. “There really wasn’t any difference,” he said. “The first night was just like this night, I just couldn’t buy a shot.” Coach Gregg Marshall liked the trend, to a point. “Still not that the Cleanthony that I expect to see, ” Marshall said. “I think he’s going to continue to show even more stuff. Finish a little stronger. Rebound a little better. He had one dunk that was coming, and he was a little soft on it and he got deflected.”
  • I would not have picked the starting lineup of Orukpe, Baker, Wessel, Hall and Armstead before the season. The key to it working is outside shooting, because neither Hall nor Orukpe is going to spread the defense. Orukpe will always be in the post on offense. Hall can play out of the lane some, but hasn’t needed to yet. The other three players must be able to make jumpers to keep the defense from packing in. So far, Baker and Wessel are doing that, although the sample size isn’t big on either. Armstead is 0 for 6 from three-point range in two games. His history at Oregon, where he shot 32.7 percent (51-156) in two seasons suggests he is adequate. The rotation and playing time suggests that Early is the next choice. Orukpe’s effectiveness also impacts Jake White’s playing time. If Orukpe and Hall can play together, that limits White’s time as a power forward who can shoot. When Hall plays center, time opens up at the four spot.
  • I met WSU recruit Rian (ree-Ahn) Holland after the game. He’s been described as a great shooter who plays like Golden State’s Stephen Curry. I see the comparison because, like Curry, Holland is small. He’s listed at 6-0, 140 pounds and I think that’s generous by an inch or two. Everybody who sees him play says his size doesn’t keep him from excelling. Holland made his second visit to WSU and enjoyed it. “I loved it,” he said. “I can’t wait to get out here.” Holland’s season at South View (N.C.) starts soon and much is expected. “We’re projected to make it to the state championship,” he said. “People say we’re stacked.”
  • Tuesday’s game at VCU will be a tough one for the Shockers. We saw how an experienced team struggled against VCU’s defense last season in the NCAA Tournament. This will be a major test of their composure and ball-handling. Last season, UNI went to VCU for the BracketBusters game and committed 19 turnovers. But it made 55 percent of its shots and trailed by four with 3:56 to play before losing 77-68. I think the Shockers would feel pretty good about a similar effort. Barring a blowout, it’s a no-lose situation. They either get better by learning from a defeat or show a ton of potential with a big win. “If we win, we know how hard we have to continue to work,” Early said. “If things go the opposite way, we know where we want to be and how hard we still have to work.”
  • VCU opened the season with an 80-57 win over Florida Gulf Coast on Friday at home. The Rams forced 25 turnovers and scored 33 points off those mistakes. Guard Briante Weber recorded a school-record 10 steals.

Next up: at VCU, 6 p.m. Tuesday (ESPNU)