(St. Louis) (AP) – In January, Missouri State gave unbeaten Wichita State its closest call. Nothing close about this one.
The Bears were done early in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament semifinals after getting steamrolled by the nation’s lone unbeaten team.
“It’s just a whole other level,” forward Christian Kirk said after a 67-42 loss to the second-ranked and top-seeded Shockers on Saturday. “We’ve been trying to get there with our program the past two or three years, and I think it just sets a standard for the whole Valley.”
Cleanthony Early scored 20 points with three 3-pointers and a pair of dunks, and Wichita State improved to 33-0 with little resistance.
Missouri State trailed 13-12 with 8:49 to go in the first half before it all fell apart. The Bears (20-12) likely have done enough to get a chance to rid that bad taste.
“Yeah, we definitely have to bounce back,” guard Austin Ruder said. “I don’t think we just chalk it up to being Wichita State because we competed with them at our place, and we feel like we can compete with anybody in the nation.”
Missouri State was hampered by injuries to two key players. Jarmar Gulley, who leads the team with a 14.7-point average, had five points in 14 minutes before leaving with a jaw injury. Keith Pickens was scoreless and played three minutes because of a groin injury.
“They’re two of our best guys,” forward Kirk said. “That’s pretty tough.”
Tekele Cotton also made three 3-pointers for the Shockers, who matched the start by Larry Bird and Indiana State in 1979 before they lost to Michigan State and Magic Johnson in the NCAA title game. Wichita State will be heavily favored against Indiana State or Southern Illinois to make it 34 in a row, which would match the NCAA-record start by UNLV in 1990-91.
The Shockers, who last won the conference tourney in 1987, took control with a 17-0 run in the first half and topped it with 24 straight points in the second, scoring at will while Missouri State endured droughts totaling more than 15 minutes.
Missouri State led by 19 points at home against Wichita State in January, before losing by three in overtime.
The Bears got away with 33 percent shooting in the quarterfinals against Illinois State but were blown out shooting 31 percent against the Shockers.
Gavin Thurman led Missouri State with nine points. Ruder was held to four points on 2-for-7 shooting after going 6 for 12 from 3-point range and scoring 21 points in the quarterfinals.
Wichita State went to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed last season and is closing in on a No. 1 seed this March.
Early had his two dunks, celebrating a bit on the way back down court each time, and was among seven players scoring during the 24-0 run that made it 61-23 with 8:58 to go.
The Shockers were 8 for 10 from 3-point range in the first half, with five of them coming in the 17-0 run. Marshall said it was actually 8 for 8 because the two misses were with the shot clock about to expire.
“I thought we did some really good things in the first half defensively,” coach Paul Lusk said. “They just hit some unbelievable shots.
“When they’re rolling like that, they’re going to be tough to deal with.”
Missouri State went more than 6 1/2 minutes without a point before Thurman scored in the lane with 2:13 to go in the half. The Bears trailed 33-19 at the half, their lowest first-half scoring output this season.