ST. LOUIS (AP) – Fred VanVleet scored 22 points including several key baskets late to lead another strong ensemble effort and No. 2 Wichita State remained the nation’s lone unbeaten after defeating Indiana State 83-69 on Sunday in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament final.
Tekele Cotton added 20 points – with four 3-pointers – and Ron Baker had 14 points for the Shockers (34-0), who got tested in the second half before putting the title game out of reach with a 13-0 run capped by two 3-pointers from VanVleet that put them up by 18 points with 5:38 to go.
Wichita State matched the NCAA record for victories to start the season held by UNLV in 1990-91 with its third straight convincing tournament win after going 18-0 in the conference regular season. The Shockers won their first conference tournament since 1987.
Manny Arop and Justin Gant had 18 points apiece for second-seeded Indiana State (23-10), which has one of the closer calls against Wichita State with a seven-point loss at home in early February. Arop totaled 12 points the first two tourney games.
The Shockers had runs of 17-0 and 24-0 while beating Missouri State by 25 points in the semifinals.
Wichita State’s last nine victories have all been by double digits. The Shockers have won 12 of 14 in the Indiana State series.
VanVleet scored 13 points in the final 6 minutes and was named to the all-tournament team along Cleanthony Early and Cotton, who was voted the tourney MVP.
The only way the Valley could get two teams in the NCAA tournament is if Wichita State lost. The Shockers earned the conference’s automatic bid after going to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed and Valley tourney runner-up last March.
Wichita State got some early breathing room with an 11-0 run for a 23-11 lead not long past the mid-point of the first half, and led by at least nine points the rest of the half while taking a 39-29 halftime lead. Darius Carter led the way off the bench with nine points and five rebounds in 9 minutes.
VanVleet hit a layup and Baker had a three-point play in the opening minute of the second half to open a 15-point gap, then Wichita State went cold missing eight straight shots while Indiana State scored nine straight points to shave the deficit to six. Indiana crawled back within five points twice, the last time on two free throws by Jake Odum with 10:20 that made make it 55-50.
Indiana State cut the gap to eight points with about 3 minutes left but VanVleet hit a 3-pointer and made two layups the rest of the way.