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Wichita State beats Iowa 75-63 to win Cancun Challenge

Paul Suellentrop, The Wichita Eagle –

CANCUN, Mexico — Wichita State won the 1963 All-College Tournament in Oklahoma City. Through the years, it traveled to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Kansas City and other places near and far to play holiday tournaments.

It took until Wednesday for the Shockers to win another one away from home. WSU defeated Iowa 75-63 in the championship game of the Cancun Challenge’s Riviera Division at the Moon Palace Resort.

“We wanted to win a championship,” WSU guard Tekele Cotton said. “We pride ourselves on defense and rebounding, so we locked up.”

The Shockers (6-0) locked up the title with a dominating second-half defensive performance, holding the Hawkeyes (5-1) to four baskets. Guard Malcolm Armstead took Iowa freshman Mike Gesell, who scored 19 points Tuesday, out of the game. WSU center Ehimen Orukpe blocked five shots and his presence around the rim made the Hawkeyes nervous shooters. In two Cancun Challenge games in Mexico, WSU allowed 27 baskets.

“That’s a Big Ten team,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “You look at them physically and the way they play. Everything on the glass was smash-mouth.”

Cleanthony Early scored 15 first-half points on his way to 25 to lead the Shockers, who are 6-0 for the first time since 2006-07. Armstead added 14 points. Early was chosen tournament MVP and Armstead joined him on the all-tournament team.

Both Early and Armstead entered the game 1 of 12 from three-point range. WSU coach Gregg Marshall didn’t believe those stats. He believed what he saw in practice. He told Early not to hesitate on his shots in games. Other than that, he stayed out of their brains and let them shoot. On Wednesday, Early made 3 of 6 threes and scored 15 first-half points to keep WSU close. Armstead made 3 of 5, two in a row early in the second half when the Shockers grabbed the lead.

“I’m not going to let him shoot those if I don’t think he’s going to make them,” Marshall said. “I’ve seen them shoot it and I know they can make it. If you start talking about it, then they’re hesitant.”

The Shockers opened up from behind the arc early in the second half. Evan Wessel’s three tied it 37-all. Armstead made back-to-back threes. In between, Early drove baseline for a three-point play. That run put WSU up 46-37 and got the Shocker half of the black-and-yellow crowd roaring.

“We really thought (Early) was tremendous,” McCaffery said. “He just hadn’t been shooting the ball from three well. But he was shooting it with the green light, he was shooting it with confidence.”

WSU went up 48-40, then handed back the momentum with three turnovers. Iowa closed to within 48-46 before WSU went on another burst. Tekele Cotton started the run by grabbing Ron Baker’s airball and saving it to Baker. He then curled into the lane for a runner and a 50-46 lead. Orukpe shocked everybody, including his teammates, by swishing a 15-foot jumper. Then Cotton deflected an Iowa pass and the Shockers got Carl Hall a three-point play on the break. His free throw made it 55-46 with 10:40 remaining.

“We picked it up, being tougher,” Early said. “We know we can play defense. When Ehimen plays like big, it’s going to be tough for a lot of teams to beat us.”

The Shockers pushed the lead to 64-54 on Cotton’s steal and three-point play with 5:36 remaining.

Iowa’s press and changing defense slowed WSU’s offense and forced the Shockers to battle the shot clock in the first half. Early showed a three-point touch lacking until Wednesday. He made 3 of 4 in the first half, scoring 15 points, after entering the game 1 of 12.

WSU also got a lift from reserve Nick Wiggins, who sped past the defense for a dunk and a layup off long passes from Armstead.

Iowa made 7 of 8 threes in the first half, four by backup guard Josh Oglesby. The Hawkeyes led 35-33 at halftime, courtesy of a buzzer-beating three by Anthony Clemmons at the end of the shot clock.

The Hawkeyes led 29-23 late in the half before Early got on a roll. He scored seven of WSU’s final nine points in the half.

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