No. 8 Shockers handle S. Illinois
By R.B. FALLSTROM
By R.B. FALLSTROM
CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois was inspired offensively by coach Barry Hinson's return to the bench following a death in the family, and the Salukis shot 54 percent.
It wasn't nearly good enough against No. 8 Wichita State.
Fred VanVleet had 17 points, seven assists, two steals and no turnovers and the Shockers remained unbeaten behind 62 percent shooting, opening Missouri Valley Conference play with an 82-67 victory Thursday night.
"We're glad to get out of here with a win," coach Gregg Marshall said. "I knew that with everything that's been going on with Coach Hinson, the way the team had rallied around him and then with the tragedy with his family, we were honestly afraid that this team would pull out something special."
Hinson returned after missing one game due to the death of his son-in-law, 31-year-old Niles Thomason, on Christmas while visiting family. In an emotional postgame news conference, the usually fiery coach blamed himself for the loss, saying he just wasn't up to it.
He also pointed out that Wichita State was very, very good and coming off a Final Four appearance, and said the key to the game was the "the little stinker VanVleet."
Last month after a loss at Murray State, Hinson called players "mama's boys," then later apologized for singling out a player for criticism.
"Tonight, I don't mind telling you I'm going to point the finger at me," Hinson said, his voice halting at times. "When you're 52 years old, you ought to be mature enough to at least figure out how to fake it, and get your guys energized.
"And I couldn't do that, so I take full responsibility."
Hinson said the death hit him hard on New Year's Eve.
"The biggest thing that bothers me is I'm a basketball coach and I'm a father and we fix things," Hinson said. "And I can't, I can't, fix this."
Cleanthony Early scored 23 points for the Shockers (14-0, 1-0), the preseason conference favorites. The 14-0 start is five wins better than the school's previous best and the 14-game winning streak matches the school mark set in 1953-54 under coach Ralph Miller.
"Like Coach says, it's easy to get a good look every time when you're setting yourself up," Early said. "It's easy to fall in love with just trying to score every time when you get a big lead like that but we stayed patient and stayed focused."
Sean O'Brien and Desmar Jackson had 19 points apiece for Southern Illinois (4-10, 0-1), which upset Wichita State at home last February the week after the Shockers had been knocked out of the Top 25.
"This group plays a little smarter than that group at times," Marshall said. "It starts with Fred."
Nick Wiggins added 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting for Wichita State.
Southern Illinois was out of it early despite its strong shooting. O'Brien topped his previous career best of 11 points.
Wichita State shot 59 percent to go with a 16-8 rebounding advantage and near error-free play while building a 49-32 halftime lead, committing its lone turnover with about 3 minutes to go.
The Shockers got contributions across the board with an 18-0 run over a span of 3:19 that made it 33-16 with just over 8 minutes to go. Darius Carter opened the run with consecutive baskets and the Shockers got three-point plays from Early and VanVleet plus 3-pointers by Wiggins and VanVleet.
The Shockers are 30-8 on the road the last three seasons, best in the nation.