WICHITA, Kan. -- Cleanthony Early had a hard time wrapping his head around what he accomplished Wednesday night.
Early scored 39 points -- the most for a Wichita State player in over 27 years -- and the No. 23 Shockers beat Southern Illinois 82-76 two days after returning to the national rankings.Early's point total was the highest for the Shockers since All-America and future NBA star Xavier McDaniel scored 44 in 1985."No, no, not really," Early said when asked if he realized how close he came to McDaniel. "I respect him, though, respect him for doing that. I know he was the man."Wichita State (15-1, 4-0 Missouri Valley) needed everything Early could do as Southern Illinois rode a hot-shooting first half to keep it close into the final minute.Desmar Jackson scored 28 points and Anthony Beane added 14 for the Salukis (7-8, 0-4).Ehimen Orukpe had 10 points and nine rebounds for Wichita State, which has won 16 straight games at home."That was the main thing ... to get that W, keep this thing rolling," Early said. "We want to keep this going."The Salukis have lost nine straight Missouri Valley games, dating back to last season, but had a nine-point lead starting the second half.It seemed to evaporate in the blink of an eye, and coach Barry Hinson was concerned enough to call two time-outs in the second half's first 76 seconds.That didn't stop Wichita State from scoring the first 10 points after halftime, capped by Early's three-point play that gave the Shockers a 44-43 lead and preceded Hinson's second time-out.The Salukis stemmed the tide for a bit, leading 50-49 with 16 minutes to play. But Wichita State then scored eight straight, including an Orupke slam."Those first five minutes were huge," Orupke said. "After that first half, we needed all the energy we could get."After Hinson called his final time-out of the game, with 14:03 remaining, Southern Illinois scored five straight before the Shockers answered with two Tekele Cotton hustle baskets and Early's jumper for a 63-55 lead with 9:45 remaining."They wanted to win as bad as we did," Cotton said. "It seemed like we kept needing one more stop."Wichita State pushed the lead to 10 soon after, but Southern Illinois stayed in it. Jalen Pendleton's basket with 3:15 remaining cut Wichita State's lead to 73-69.It was still a four-point game in the final minutes when two Wichita State turnovers gave the Salukis a chance. Beane drew a foul and made two free throws with 29.7 seconds on the clock to cut the Southern Illinois deficit to 78-76.But free throws from Wichita State's Malcolm Armstead and an SIU turnover sealed the victory for the Shockers."Everyone will talk about our good first half," Hinson said, "but that second half, to get down 10 and get back in it was the best thing we did. We never quit."