WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - 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).
Ehime Orupke 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.'
The Associated Press News Service
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