Key statistics: The Shockers held the Bears to 8-of-27 shooting in the decisive first half and led by 20 points four times. For the game, WSU out-rebounded the Bears 43-25 and scored 30 of its points in the paint.
How the game turned: Cleanthony Early’s three-pointer gave WSU a 14-6 lead and started a 13-2 run that gave the Shockers control. After Early’s three, MSU’s Ron Mvouika traveled. After two missed shots by the Bears, WSU led 18-6.
Records: MSU 19-10, 9-8 MVC; WSU 31-0, 18-0
- Darius Carter’s emergence as a consistent scorer might be WSU’s most important factor in March. In mid-February, he began to consistently answer two questions: 1) Who can score inside and 2) who can score off the bench? The next question will be, can he score against teams with comparable size in the NCAA Tournament? Carter made 46.8 percent of his shots, reaching double figures four times, in 13 non-conference games. In 18 MVC games, he shot 58.8 percent (60 of 102) from the field and averaged 8.3 point. He scored 10 points Saturday to give him double figures in five of the past seven games. Gone are the hook shots and fadeaways that marked his early games. He is a more decisive finisher who goes to the rim when he scores and is a devastating finisher on fast breaks. It’s also encouraging that not all of his production can be linked to playing MVC schools. He had 11 points and 14 rebounds against Tennessee and 9 and 7 against Alabama. Carter’s season turned in the right direction at Northern Iowa on Feb. 8, when he made all six of his shots and scored 15 points. Since then, he’s made 28 of 40 shots and averaged 10.6 points. At UNI, Carter said he hadn’t been prepared for the physical play in the MVC. Clearly, that is no longer an issue. “It’s just a mental adjustment,” he said. “I’m used to it now. I got out every game realizing it’s going to be tough like that, and I have to be tougher than our opponent.” Carter is filling other roles – he grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots on Saturday.
- The time off before St. Louis is always good for bumps and bruises. This season, the relief from the mental grind of going unbeaten might be more important. “Physically, I’m a little banged up,” Carter. “We’ve got a long time before we play, so I’ll be more than ready.”
- Some leftover milestones from Saturday: WSU set a school-record with its 31st win, mark that’s been overshadowed by so many others. WSU long ago set its record for consecutive MVC regular-season wins, previously 12 by the 1982-83 team. One record that will have to wait until next season is WSU’s home-court streak. The Shockers are at 17 straight. The record is 22, which stretched over three seasons from 1981-83.
- WSU guard Fred VanVleet admitted the prospect of going unbeaten entered their minds in the fall. “Looking at the schedule, and ‘Man, I don’ t think we’ll lose any of these games’ and that’s just us as competitors,” he said. “And then the next sentence was ‘Well, OK, let’s take it slow and get the one that’s in front of us first.’ That’s what we do and the coaches help us keep things in perspective. They don’t treat us any differently. Maybe when they start letting us get away with stuff and pampering us, then we’ll slip up.”
- The next loss will be a disappointing one for the Shockers. The second game of the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend will be the most pressure-packed of the season. The Shockers are aware that, as impressive as 31-0 is and will be, the label of NCAA Tournament flop would be painful to wear. “That’s the bad part about the world we live in,” VanVleet said. “We can’t even celebrate this great accomplishment. We’ve just got to keep focused and looking ahead to what we’ve got in front of us. When we’re sitting down some day we’ll think back to this as one of the greatest seasons ever played.”
- The 8:35 p.m. game on Friday may be the best of the MVC Tournament’s first day. Third-seeded Northern Iowa has won five of six and is playing like most expected it to earlier in the season. Sixth-seeded Southern Illinois has won seven of 10 with the losses at WSU, at second-place Indiana State and at UNI.
Next up: vs. Drake or Evansville, 12:05 p.m. Friday (FSKC)