It’s a bit of an oxymoron really. Every team in America wants to win every game they play, but very few set a goal of an undefeated season. You can count the Shockers as one of those teams.
Tuesday night, the Shockers took one more step towards a perfect regular season with a 78-67 win against streaking Southern Illinois University. The Salukis came in winners of four in a row, but left just like every other team the Shockers have encountered this year; as losers.
If you’re counting at home, that’s 26 down, and five to go. An undefeated regular season hasn’t happened since the Saint Joseph Hawks did it in 2004. Are the Shockers thinking about a perfect season? Not even close.
“I think we take it game-by-game, day-by-day,” said Shocker senior Cleanthony Early. “I don’t think we look forward to an undefeated season, because first you have to beat the team in front of you if you want to go undefeated, so just worry about the task at hand, and the rest will play itself out.”
Ron Baker led the Shockers with 19 points, with Early right behind him at 18. Early scored 11 of his points from the free throw line, while Baker hit three shots from behind the arc, all in the second half, as the Shockers pulled away late in the game.
It’s another W in the win column, but head coach Gregg Marshall saw plenty that he didn’t like from his team.
“You play approximately 35 games in a year. You play 25 games that are basically you,” Marshall said. “You play five games that are better than you, normally, and you play five that aren’t as good as what you normally play, and this would fall into the bottom five, unfortunately.”
Wichita State committed 13 turnovers, but got timely shooting in the second half every time the Salukis got close.
Up by only three points with 3:48 left in the game, Senior Nick Wiggins took a pass in stride from Tekele Cotton, and swished a three-pointer to put the Shockers back up by six. It was the dagger the Shockers needed, and it kept the momentum squarely in the WSU corner.
While many teams like to look at a loss as a learning experience, the Shockers have a different plan.
“At this point, you keep winning, you just got to learn from winning, which is tough for a lot of teams,” Shocker guard Ron Baker said. “A lot of teams look at a loss as a learning experience, but for us, we don’t want that to happen, so we’re going to learn by winning.”
If there is one nice benefit to the unblemished record, it’s what it can do to a team before the game even begins.
“When you go on the road, and you look at somebodies game notes,” Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson said. “Their record on Friday, their record on Saturday, their record in the afternoon, their record in the morning, their record late at night, their record on ESPN, their record on FOX, their record on ESPN 3. You know what? You’re undefeated on every one of those. It’s hard to find a kink in the armor.”
There’s a reason an undefeated regular season hasn’t been completed in ten years, because every team you play is gunning for you. However, you can count Hinson as one who thinks the Shockers have a good chance to complete the accomplishment.
“You have to give credit to Gregg,” Hinson said. “I don’t see them feeling pressure, I don’t see that at all. I just don’t see it. I think they’re having fun.”
Having fun, and winning games. It’s the perfect recipe for an undefeated season.