Created: 11/26/2013 12:35 AM
(AP) KANSAS CITY, Mo. - After watching DePaul get roughed up by Wichita State, coach Oliver Purnell could only laugh when he was asked what the biggest weakness was for the so-called "mid-major" team.
"I don’t consider them a mid-major. They made it to the Final Four," Purnell said drily. "I don’t think their size is a weakness. Right now, I’m trying to look for one."
He may not find one when he watches the video from Monday night’s game.
Ron Baker scored 21 points, Tekele Cotton added 17 and the No. 12 Shockers cruised to a 90-72 victory over the Blue Demons in the semifinals of the CBE Classic.
"Their bigs are athletic and long, so you know, who cares if you’re 2 inches bigger if they’re quicker and more explosive, and have a number of them?" said Purnell, whose team lost to Wichita State in a tournament in Cancun last year.
That was long before the Shockers really made their mark with their run to the Final Four.
"I think they’re every bit as good this year," Purnell said. "Their big people, they have two or three of those guys who play big. I really like their team."
Cleanthony Early added 15 points for the Shockers (6-0), who have barely been tested this season _ though that should change Tuesday night. Wichita State will face BYU, which held off Texas 86-82 earlier in the night, in the tournament title game.
"They play as fast as any team I’ve coached against, maybe ever. They really push that ball, and they have so many weapons," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. "These games are going to steadily get harder."
Brandon Young had 16 points and Tommy Hamilton scored 14 for DePaul (3-2), which has lost 44 consecutive games against Top 25 teams since beating Villanova in 2008.
Cheered on by former Wichita State star Xavier McDaniel, who was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday, the Shockers used a 16-0 first-half spree to take command.
Baker started the run spanning about 5 minutes with a pair of free throws, and Early knocked down a 3-pointer. But for the most part, the Shockers did their damage by slicing through the lane, taking advantage of the slower DePaul perimeter players for some easy layups.
Of course, they also took advantage of tighter rules against hand checking.
"We were using some ball screens," Marshall said. "The key was getting to the rim and putting them in stressful situations with the ball screens."
Fred VanVleet went to the rim to make it 32-21 before Purnell called a timeout midway through the first half. Moments later, Baker did the same thing and Cotton was there to clean up his miss, prompting Purnell to burn another timeout with the lead 38-21.
DePaul tried to get back into the game, trimming its deficit to 46-34 with about 2 minutes left in the first half, but the Shockers scored the final six points before the break. They capped the run with two free throws by Early with 2.4 seconds left following a foul about 90 feet from the basket.
Purnell stalked after his team to the locker room, his jaw clenched tightly.
"I mean, they went on a run and we went dry," Purnell said. "Neither team was stopping the other, and they shot at a high clip all night long."
The game turned into a sluggish, disjointed affair in the second half, and for a while the Blue Demons took advantage of it. Young’s basket with 10:56 left got DePaul to 64-51 and energized the few dozen fans wearing blue and red who’d been sitting most of the game.
The Shockers made them slouch back down in short order.
Wichita State made good on four straight trips to the foul line, and then Baker resumed going to the basket. He followed up a layup with a nifty reverse with just more than 8 minutes remaining, extending the lead to 72-52 and essentially putting the game away.
Wichita State, buoyed by a large contingent that made the 3-hour drive north on Interstate 35 to Kansas City’s Sprint Center, cruised down the stretch to the easy victory. It moved Marshall within 10 of matching Gene Smithson (155) for the second-most wins in school history. Ralph Miller holds the record with 220.
"Just in the environment, we were joking around in shootaround, it kind of reminded us of the NCAA tournament run and the whole setting, and we just kind of fed off that," Early said.