NCAA Tournament: Shockers' Thomas settles down, helps beat Gonzaga
Cleanthony Early, like the rest of the Wichita State Shockers, was rolling.
But after taking a halftime lead over No. 1 Gonzaga at EnergySolutions Arena on Saturday night, Early and his team found themselves in trouble.
Almost everything had been falling for Early, but when the Wichita State swingman found himself matched up with Gonzaga's 7-foot All-American early in the second half, he rushed his shot, got blocked and then committed a foul that sent him to the bench.
Wichita State, meanwhile, was letting Gonzaga capture the lead with a 12-0 run.
Coach Gregg Marshall settled Early down.
"He's a live wire," Marshall said of the junior. "He needed to sit for a while and gather himself, and then he was good again."
And if the Shockers' first two games of the NCAA Tournament are any indication, as Early goes, so goes Wichita State.
The forward had a quiet showing in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. After leading his team all season with 13.8 points a night, Early scored five, eight and two points in his final three games before the NCAA Tournament.
On the much larger stage, however, Early has excelled. He scored 21 in an upset of Pittsburgh on Thursday. And when his team needed him again Saturday, he came through.
"I think sometimes we can get too excited," Early said. "I don't think we got nervous. I came out and rushed a shot, and coach made me realize that I rushed a shot, and I was thinking about it. So we composed ourselves and got it together. They called a timeout and emphasized what we wanted to do. Within that 8 minutes we had a chance, and we came together."
When he found himself matched up again with Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk, Early forced the big man out to the perimeter where he could use his speed. Early found openings, and his shots kept falling.
"He hit some big shots, so you have to give it up to him," Olynyk said.
In all, Early hit 6 of 11, including 4 of 7 from beyond the arc to tie for a team-best 16 points.
"Just feels good to have your teammates believing in you and seeing your shots go in and your teammates' shots go in," Early said. "It feels good."