ST. LOUIS (AP) - Evansville got another big game from D.J. Balentine. It wasn’t nearly enough for one of the youngest teams in the nation to stop unbeaten Wichita State.
“I think our guys learned a lot,” coach Marty Simmons said after the Purple Aces lost contact early in an 80-58 loss to the second-ranked and top-seeded Shockers on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. “How can you not?”
Simmons spent more time talking about Wichita State’s 32-0 run than about his team’s shortcomings. Evansville has two freshmen and three sophomores in the lineup and no seniors on the roster.
“Not good,” Simmons said. “It certainly could have been worse. We just weren’t sharp and give them credit. We’ve got to get better, we’ve got to get stronger.”
Evansville is 2-9 in its last 11 conference tournament games.
Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker scored 17 points apiece and Wichita State set a tournament record with 11 blocked shots.
“They’re just extremely talented, great shot blockers,” Balentine said. “They have two or three down there that can do it, so it makes it difficult.”
Balentine had 31 points with seven 3-pointers for ninth-seeded Evansville (14-19), which lost twice by an average of 15 points to Wichita State in the regular season. He had 30 points in the play-in game victory over Drake on Thursday night.
Balentine, who led the Valley with a 22.5-point average, was one short of the school record for 3-pointers. He was hindered in the second half by a hip injury from a fall.
Egidiju Mockevicius added 11 points and 11 rebounds for Evansville, but the other three starters combined for seven points.
“Both individually and as a team, we’ve got to be more aggressive against an attacking, aggressive defense like Wichita State plays,” Simmons said. “And I think we will.”
Kadeem Coleby had six of the blocks for the Shockers, who are two victories shy of matching the NCAA record of 34 wins to start a season by UNLV in 1990-91. UNLV was perfect before losing in the NCAA semifinals to Duke that season.
Wichita State beat every Valley school twice in the regular season and takes on the Missouri State-Illinois State winner in the semifinals on Saturday. Missouri State has come the closest to beating the Shockers, losing by three in overtime at home in January.
“They’re a great team, everybody knows what they do well,” said guard Adam Wing, held scoreless on 0 for 5 shooting. “We knew we had our hands full coming in.”
This is rarified air for the Shockers, who haven’t been ranked this high since 1981 when they were also No. 2. They went to the Final Four last year as a No. 9 seed and are two wins away from a first Valley title since 1987 and a No. 1 seed.