Purple Aces face tall task in bout with undefeated Shockers

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Updated: 2/01 12:12 pm

Wichita, KS (SportsNetwork.com) - There are only three undefeated teams left at the Division I level, and the fourth-ranked Wichita State Shockers are one of them.

With a record of 22-0, the Shockers are off to their best start ever, and they put a host of significant streaks on the line in Saturday's Missouri Valley Conference clash with the visiting Evansville Purple Aces.

Evansville comes in two games under .500 on the season (10-12), and three games under in conference play (3-6). The Purple Aces have alternated wins and losses in their last six games, and they are hoping the trend continues as they dropped a 95-81 decision at Northern Iowa on Wednesday in their most recent outing. UE is just 2-8 in true road games, and the team has lost its last two on enemy hardwood.

Wichita State is enjoying a campaign for the ages, as the team has run rough shod through the opposition, both in and out of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Shockers are 9-0 in league action, having recently disposed of visiting Loyola-Chicago in a 57-45 final this past Tuesday. The win improved WSU to 12-0 at home, and the final score in that game represented the lowest scoring effort by both the Shockers and an opponent this season.

Wichita State owns a 22-6 lead in the all-time series with Evansville, but the Purple Aces won both meetings last year to earn their first season sweep of the Shockers since the 1998-99 campaign.

Several records were established in Evansville's recent visit to Northern Iowa, as D.J. Balentine set a new McLeod Center mark by scoring a career-high 43 points, but the Panthers responded by draining a school-record 17 3- pointers. Balentine's effort tied for the third-best in the nation this season, but the only other UE player to reach double figures was Blake Simmons with his 11 points. As a team, the Purple Aces knocked down 52 percent of their total shots, but went just 4-of-12 from beyond the arc. UNI converted its treys at an astounding 51.5 percent clip, and while the two teams combined for 108 field goal attempts, they also combined for only 16 turnovers.

With that monumental effort, Balentine's team-leading scoring average climbed to 23.0 ppg. He is also the club's primary playmaker as he hands out 4.2 apg, while shooting 41.8 percent from the perimeter and 87.7 percent from the foul line. Four others net between 8.2 and 9.2 ppg for an Evansville squad that is putting up 70.8 ppg while permitting 72.3 ppg.

Wichita State put forth its worst offensive effort of the season earlier in the week against Loyola, shooting a meager 36.5 percent from the floor while committing 16 turnovers. Fortunately, the team was spot on from a defensive standpoint, holding the Ramblers to 35.3 percent field goal efficiency, which included a poor 3-of-16 showing from distance. WSU easily won the battle on the boards, 44-28, and the star of the game for the Shockers, as he has been for most of the season, was Cleanthony Early, who went 7-of-14 from the field, including 4-of-9 on 3-pointers, to finish with 23 points.

Early (16.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) leads the team in scoring and rebounding, while help comes from Ron Baker (13.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.9 apg) and Fred VanVleet (12.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.3 apg). As a team, the Shockers are netting a solid 74.7 ppg, but where they really shine is on defense, as foes are permitted just 59.0 ppg on typical shooting efforts of .390 overall and .300 from 3-point land. Favorable margins in both rebounding (+8.5) and turnovers (+2.9) have helped the team's overall cause as well.

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