Shockers finish up unbeaten
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
WICHITA, Kan. — The chant started when Ron Baker walked toward the Wichita State bench for the final time, and reached a crescendo when he popped the front of his jersey — No. 31.
As in, 31-0. A perfect regular season.
“Undefeated!” the sellout crowd roared in unison. “Undefeated!”
Baker finished with 13 points, Cleanthony Early led the way with 19 and the second-ranked Shockers rolled to a 68-45 victory over Missouri State on Saturday, becoming the first team since Saint Joseph’s in 2004 to enter its conference tournament unbeaten.
Wichita State (18-0) will have a first-round bye in the Missouri Valley tournament next week.
“My teammates told me a couple weeks ago that my number was something special, because that’s how many games we could potentially win,” Baker said. “I didn’t put that together myself, but it’s very special. It’s going to be something I look back on forever.”
Missouri State (19-11, 9-9) had the Shockers in trouble when they met Jan. 11 in Springfield, Mo., but the Bears blew a 19-point second-half lead and ultimately lost 72-69 in overtime.
They never came close to making it a game Saturday, trailing by double-digits in the opening minutes and rarely trimming the lead to fewer than 20 points in the second half.
The result is the best start since UNLV began 34-0 and lost in the 1991 national title game. Wichita State is also off to the best start by a Missouri Valley team since Indiana State, led by Larry Bird, won its first 33 games and fell to Michigan State in the 1979 title game.
The Shockers’ last loss came in the Final Four, too — to eventual champ Louisville last year.
“It seems like the season started about three weeks ago as opposed to months ago,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “It’s been incredible. They’ve met every challenge.”
Putting this one away early gave a raucous crowd that had braved the threat of freezing rain ample opportunity to celebrate. Waving signs that applauded their unblemished record, fans packed inside Koch Arena serenaded a senior class led by Early that managed to elevate the program from a solid mid-major into a national power in the midst of a memorable season.
Along with fellow seniors Chadrack Lufile, Kadeem Coleby and Nick Wiggins, Early gave Marshall a bear hug when he checked out for the final time in the closing minutes.
“I’m just very, very proud of these guys,” Marshall said.
Jarmar Gulley scored 15 points to lead Missouri State, which was dominated on the boards, in transition and just about everywhere else in losing its 10th straight against ranked teams.
No. 1 FLORIDA 79, LSU 61
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Dorian Finney-Smith scored 16 points, and top-ranked Florida used a season-high 13 3-pointers to extend its school-record winning streak to 21 games.
Casey Prather and Michael Frazier II added 14 points apiece for the Gators, who also won their 31st straight at home.
This one was never in doubt.
Florida (27-2, 16-0 Southeastern Conference) scored the first eight points, opened up a double-digit lead with consecutive 3-pointers from DeVon Walker and Finney-Smith and put the game away early in the second half with a flurry of points in the paint.
Johnny O’Bryant III led the Tigers (17-11, 8-8) with 18 points. Jordan Mickey added 14 points and 10 rebounds for LSU, which lost its seventh straight on the road.
No. 12 VIRGINIA 76 No. 4 SYRACUSE 56
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Malcolm Brogdon scored eight of his 19 points during a decisive second-half run and No. 12 Virginia clinched the top seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Akil Mitchell added 12 points and nine rebounds and Mike Tobey and Justin Anderson scored 11 each for the Cavaliers (25-5, 16-1 ACC), who won their only outright ACC regular season title 33 years ago — 1980-81 — when Ralph Sampson was a sophomore. The victory was their 13th in a row and the final buzzer brought hundreds streaming onto the court.
Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair scored 13 each for the Orange (26-3, 13-3), who lost for the third time in four games. Syracuse played much of the game without ailing Jerami Grant because of a sore back.
No. 21 MEMPHIS 72 No. 7 LOUISVILLE 66
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Chris Crawford hit a 3-pointer with 1:36 left to put Memphis ahead to stay, and the Tigers swept the season series from the Cardinals.
No. 21 Memphis (22-7, 11-5 American Athletic Conference) trailed 65-57 with 4:45 left when Michael Dixon Jr. scored six straight, jumpstarting the Tigers who scored 15 of the final 16 points.
No. 7 Louisville (24-5, 13-3) went cold after taking its biggest lead. The Cardinals didn’t score again until Chris Jones hit a free throw with 40.3 seconds to go.
Montrezl Harrell scored a career-high 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Russ Smith scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half. Luke Hancock had 11.
Dixon finished with 18, and Geron Johnson scored 15 points. Austin Nichols added 14, and Crawford finished with 12 points, going 4 for 5 from beyond the arc.
No. 9 CREIGHTON 69
CINCINNATI — Justin Martin had 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds on Saturday, and Xavier led most of the way in front of the largest crowd in the 14-year history of the Musketeers’ arena.
It was a long-awaited rematch for Xavier, (20-9, 10-6), which lost one of the Big East’s most wide-open games at Creighton in January.
Martin led the way. The junior guard helped Xavier control the tempo and build a 13-point lead early in the second half that was more than enough.
Creighton (23-5, 13-3) couldn’t catch up despite 27 points by Doug McDermott, who leads the nation in scoring.
McDermott had 35 points during the Bluejays’ 95-89 win at home on Jan. 12, a game that showed the reconfigured Big East was a whole different conference. Xavier had more going for it in the rematch.
CONNECTICUT 51 No. 11 CINCINNATI 45
HARTFORD, Conn. — Shabazz Napier scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead UConn.
The Huskies (23-6, 11-5 American Athletic Conference) won despite going without a field goal for the game’s final 7½ minutes.
But they held Cincinnati (24-5, 13-3) to just 13 baskets on 48 shots.
Napier, the Huskies’ player of the year candidate, bested Cincinnati’s, Sean Kilpatrick, who finished with 16 points.
UConn led by one at halftime. But the Bearcats had just one field goal in the first 7½ minutes after intermission, and Connecticut went on a 13-4 run over the first 11½ minutes to open up a 39-29 lead.
The Bearcats were able to cut that to three points late, but UConn hit five free throws down the stretch to hold on.
No. 18 MICHIGAN ST. 46
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Tracy Abrams scored 12 points, leading Illinois past slumping Michigan State.
The Fighting Illini (17-12, 6-10 Big Ten) have three straight victories for the first time since winning four in a row from Dec. 21 to Jan. 4. That successful stretch included a win over then-No. 23 Missouri.
The Spartans (22-7, 11-5) have dropped two straight and six of their last 10 games. They were full strength for the first time in nearly two months, but simply weren’t good enough to beat a streaking team that seemed more inspired.
Branden Dawson returned from a broken hand and played for the first time since Jan. 21, when he helped Michigan State beat Indiana to improve to 18-1 overall and 7-0 in conference.
Michigan State’s Gary Harris had 19 points.
No. 19 NORTH CAROLINA 60, VIRGINIA TECH 56
BLACKSBURG, Va. — James Michael McAdoo scored 15 points to lead No. 19 North Carolina to its 11th straight victory.
McAdoo hit 6 of 9 from the floor for the Tar Heels (22-7, 12-4), who started Atlantic Coast Conference play 1-4 and have not lost since. The Tar Heels haven’t won this many games in a row since opening the 2008-09 season with 13 straight victories.
McAdoo scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half, including 10 after the Hokies had cut the Tar Heel lead to 42-40 on a basket by Jarell Eddie with 8:54 left in the game. North Carolina answered with seven straight points, with McAdoo scoring the last two points on a basket with 6:57 left to make it 49-40.
Leslie McDonald added 14 points and J.P. Tokoto finished with 12 for North Carolina.
Eddie led Virginia Tech (9-19, 2-14 ACC) with 18 points.
No. 23 SMU 70, UCF 55
DALLAS — Markus Kennedy scored 18 points, Nic Moore had 11 of his 13 in the second half and SMU took another step toward its first NCAA tournament berth in 21 years.
The Mustangs (23-6, 12-4 American Athletic) improved to 15-0 at home, with the last nine coming at newly renovated Moody Coliseum, going into their final home game Wednesday night against seventh-ranked Louisville. The Cardinals lost to No. 21 Memphis 72-66 on Saturday.
Moore, who also had game highs with six assists and four steals, had consecutive 3-pointers for a 45-27 lead with 13:53 remaining, pumping his arms wildly as he stomped up the court with a loud roar from the sixth sellout crowd since Moody reopened in January.
Isaiah Sykes had 18 points to lead UCF (11-16, 3-13).
OKLAHOMA 77, No. 24 TEXAS 65
NORMAN, Okla. — Isaiah Cousins scored a career-high 24 points and Oklahoma gained ground in the race for second place in the Big 12.
Buddy Hield hit four 3-pointers and scored 17 points for Oklahoma (21-8, 10-6), which entered the game in a four-way battle with Texas (21-8, 10-6), Kansas State and Iowa State behind Kansas.
After Saturday, all four teams will have two games remaining.
Oklahoma committed a season-low seven turnovers while completing a regular-season sweep of the Longhorns. The Sooners have won three of the last four games in the series after Texas had won 12 of the previous 15.
Cameron Ridley had his eighth double-double of the season with 19 points and 14 rebounds for Texas, which has lost three of its last four games after winning nine of its previous 10, all in league play.
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