Key statistics: WSU scored 23 points off 18 Evansville turnovers and made 20 of 21 free throws. Ron Baker scored a career-high 26 points and Fred VanVleet contributed 18 points, eight assists and five steals.
How the game turned: Evansville missed two chances to cut into a 65-60 lead in the final six minutes, allowing the Shockers to rebuild the lead to 69-60 with 4:17 to play. WSU bumped the lead to 78-64 with nine straight points by Baker.
Records: WSU 27-0, 14-0 MVC; UE 11-16, 4-10
- Evansville’s D.J. Balentine is leaning toward WSU’s Tekele Cotton as MVC Defensive Player of the Year. The two waged an entertaining matchup, with Cotton chasing Balentine through screens and trying to remain rooted to the floor when Balentine used his many pump fakes. Cotton, with a lot of help from teammates, held Balentine to 19 points on 5-of-17 shooting. Balentine did make 3 of 6 three, at least two when guarded almost perfectly, and all six of his foul shots. “He’s really athletic and definitely, most likely, Defensive Player of the Year,” Balentine said. “He reads the offense well, the way I cut, the way I move. It looks like he studies film.” Guarding Balentine means never getting a second’s rest and taking a lot of blows from teammates setting picks. “Balentine is one of the best players I’ve ever guarded, because of the amount of screens,” Cotton said. “He comes off looking to score, he doesn’t ready to pass. If he as a clean look at the goal, he’s going to make it.”
- Balentine also pointed out Cotton gets lots of help. The Shockers seemed to devote a man-and-a-half to Balentine with teammates quickly leaving their man to poke at the ball when Balentine was on the move. The Shocker shot-blockers also helped. “If I do get by him, they’re there to help,” Balentine said. “It’s just tough, overall.”
- Baker is 17 for 29 and 6 for 14 from three-point range, averaging 22.5 points, the past two games. It is his most prolific two-game scoring stretch since late November/early December. “He looked like he was more healthy,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “That ankle, I think, is getting better and better. He was really disruptive in passing lanes, deflecting balls.” Baker’s left ankle, badly sprained earlier this season, isn’t his only sore spot. He plays with so much disregard it seems as if a new one pops up each game. The four-day break since Tuesday’s game against Southern Illinois helped his tired body. “It’s nice to play on a Tuesday,” he said. “You can get your body back to normal. My mind-set was a lot better than it has been the last couple games, focusing in on playing hard and taking shots when I’m open and trusting my teammates and playing with the team.” Baker, who had five turnovers against SIU, had two on Sunday.
- WSU had eight turnovers, breaking a streak of seven straight in double figures. On the other hand, the Aces out-rebounded WSU 28-26.
- Evansville center Egidijus Mockevicius scored 19 point and grabbed 10 rebounds in 30 minutes. Foul trouble limited him to 16 minutes in the earlier meeting. The Aces start three sophomores (of which he is one) and two freshmen.
- WSU’s theme for No. 27 was the 27 bones in the human hand and how when clenched they form a fist.
- WSU was the highest-ranked team to play in Evansville, either as an Aces opponent or in an NCAA Tournament game.
- The Shockers can clinch a tie for the MVC title with one more win. The Valley race has seemed over since early January, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. WSU has won seven titles since joining the MVC in 1945-46. UNI won the MVC by three games in 2009-10 (over WSU). The last team to win it by more than three is Southern Illinois, which went 17-1 in 2003-04 to finish five up on Creighton, UNI and WSU.
Next up: at Loyola, 7 p.m. Wednesday