ST. LOUIS -- This one followed the script to a tee. After all, it was Wichita State, and Wichita State runs on predictable perfection.
On Friday, the Shockers played like a No. 1 seed. Cal Poly, their opponent, played like No. 16. Forty minutes of basketball, and it was done, 64-37, Wichita State 35-0, Cal Poly sent home. It was as logic -- and talent -- would dictate.
March Madness was not named for this game.
Wichita State came out strong, and by halftime it led, 32-13, on 19 points from forward Cleanthony Early. Early, the team's leading scorer in 2013-14, averaged 15.8 points during the season, and against the Mustangs of Cal Poly, he logged that number with more than five minutes remaining in the half -- and kept going. Early finished the game with 23 points in 19 minutes, the Shockers' leading scorer on the evening. Wichita State as a whole shot 46.percent, almost exactly its season average, as if this was just another game on just another stage -- because it was. If anything, the Shockers need to remain status quo, because status quo is perfect. And that's the goal, isn't it?
In the second half, with a double-digit lead and an almost sure win in sight, a foul was called on Wichita State. It was almost meaningless given the state of the game, but fouls don't go with perfection, so the Shockers' terrifying mascot raised its terrifying hands as if to say, "What?" Not a nanosecond later, Gregg Marshall raised his own hands in the same motion, as if it were coordinated, because this is just how smoothly these Shockers flow. They are a system, and the system works.
Caly Poly ended up as the latest sacrificial lamb in Wichita State's quest for a perfect season and championship, and it didn't put up much of a fight. It couldn't, not when its opponents were bigger, stronger, tougher and more accurate. The Mustangs shot just 20.7 percent and made only eight of 18 free throws. It wasn't pretty.
By the end of the game, Wichita State had enlisted the end of its bench, and Cal Poly could do nothing but try to make the most of its final moments in the spotlight. That's what these second-round games can become, what the numbers say they should become, and the Shockers made sure that the numbers didn't lie.
After the final buzzer, Cal Poly lingered on the court. Fans stood and cheerleaders cheered, and Wichita State was long gone. For the Mustangs, the victory was getting here. For the Shockers, the only victory that matters would be the one in two weeks.
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