Wichita State cruises past Men's Basketball, 82-67

    Sean O'Brien had a career-high 19 points for SIU.

    Sean O'Brien had a career-high 19 points for SIU.
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    Jan. 2, 2014

    By Tom Weber

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    CARBONDALE, Ill. - No. 7-ranked Wichita State was in no mood for a repeat performance of last year's stunning loss at SIU Arena. After blowing a 17-point lead here a year ago, the Shockers (14-0, 1-0) stomped on the gas pedal from the opening tip on Thursday and rarely let up en route to an 82-67 victory over Southern Illinois.

    There were glimpses of the spectacular in an otherwise workmanlike performance by Wichita State. The Shockers led by as many as 20 points in an impressive first half, as point guard Fred Vanvleet dazzled the crowd with his explosive quickness and superior ball handling ability. He had 15 of his 17 points in the first half and finished the game with seven assists and no turnovers.

    "When you don't turn the ball over and you get a good shot each time, it's hard to let a team go on an 18-0 run or whatever it was last year," said Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall.

    The Shockers were cooly efficient, converting 60 percent from the field, including 9-of-20 shots from 3-point range. They went the first 17 minutes of the game without committing a single turnover and had only six all night. Cleanthony Early led the team with 23 points, and the only starter who had an off night was the usually dead-eye Ron Baker, who was 2-of-10 from the field.

    The Salukis (4-10, 0-1) trailed, 49-32, at halftime, and just about every statistical category leaned heavily in favor of the visitors.

    "We didn't play inspired, we were flat, we were paralyzed with fear," said SIU head coach Barry Hinson. "When you play a team that's in the top 10, those teams should get the other team's best effort in every way."

    Hinson, whose son-in-law passed away unexpectedly on Christmas Day, said he was still reeling emotionally from the experience, and accepted the blame for his team's subpar first-half performance.

    "Tonight, I'm going to point the finger at me -- my teams have always played off my energy," he explained. "When you're 52 years old, you ought to be mature enough to at least know how to fake it and get your guys energized, and I couldn't do that."

    Marshall said he suspected the tragedy would be a factor in the game.

    "I knew that with everything that has been going on with Coach Hinson and the way the team had rallied around him with the tragedy with his family, we were honestly afraid that this team would pull out something special with great effort," he said. "I think they did, especially in the second half."

    SIU actually outscored Wichita State in the second half, 35-33. Desmar Jackson and Sean O'Brien both got hot and finished with 19 points apiece. O'Brien entered the game having made only three 3-pointers all season, but he went 3-for-4 from behind the arc on the night and recorded a career high.

    "If he shoots the ball like that, it will open up avenues for him to drive," Hinson said. "We've said all along we think he can be an All-League type player."

    A 29 percent 3-point shooting team on the year, Salukis had their best night from long range, making 7-of-13. Jalen Pendleton made both of his tries and had 16 points in the game.

    "Guys that don't normally make shots were making them tonight, with O'Brien and Pendleton making deep threes," Marshall said. "Hand it to them. They made it competitive."

    Hinson teared up during his post game press conference when discussing his family's loss, and concluded by thanking fans for their support.

    "I'm a basketball coach and a father, and we fix things. And I can't fix this. And I want to," he lamented. "The outpouring of love and thoughts and prayers has been unbelievable. I told my wife this morning on the phone, there's a reason we moved to this place. Every time I go to my mailbox, it confirms what I thought all along about this community."