WICHITA, Kan. - Wichita State got 21 points from junior Cleanthony Early en route to defeating Western Carolina, 79-63, in the first game of the Triple Crown Cancun Challenge for both teams.
Fresh off an emotional hard-fought road victory over nemesis Virginia Commonwealth on Tuesday, one could have expected a letdown from the Shockers. Early on it looked like those expectations may become reality.
The Shockers (3-0) raced out and scored the first eight points of the game, but the Catamounts (1-2) closed the margin to two on a layup by James Sinclair at the 8:58 mark.
Head coach Gregg Marshall was able to stabilize his young team with assistance from senior Carl Hall and Early. The duo scored the next 14 Shocker points and opened Wichita State's lead to double digits, 33-23, on Hall's baseline drive and dunk with 5:18 remaining alleviating the home crowd of any anxiety of a letdown.
Wichita State wouldn't look back from there ending the half on a 25-6 run over the final 8:37 of the half taking a 46-27 lead into the break. Early and Hall finished the half with 15 and 12 points respectively, each going 6-for-6 from the free throw line.
The Catamounts outscored the Shockers in the second half, 36-33, with the game mainly out of reach. Trey Sumler led the Catamounts with 18 points.
Wichita State finished the game 26-of-27 at the free throw line. The Shockers .962 free throw percentage was the sixth best performance in school history and the best since going 17-for-17 on Feb. 11, 2012 at Creighton.
Wichita State continues play in the Triple Crown Cancun Challenge Sat., Nov. 17 when Howard makes the trip to Charles Koch Arena for a 2 p.m. tipoff.