WICHITA — The answer was simple and came without hesitation.
When Wichita State point guard Fred VanVleet was asked what makes North Carolina Central's Jeremy Ingram so difficult to guard, VanVleet needed only two words.
"The rules," he responded.
Ingram lit up No. 11 Wichita State for a career-high 37 points on Sunday night, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Shockers' 77-66 victory.
Wichita State (12-0) extended the best start in school history behind four double-digit scorers, led by Darius Carter's season-high 19. Cleanthony Early had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Ron Baker scored 15 points, and VanVleet added 14 points and eight assists.
North Carolina Central (7-3) was outrebounded 37-22, including a 15-3 disparity on the offensive glass. Ingram was 12 of 21 from the floor and 7 of 13 from the 3-point line. He scored 27 points in the second half.
"When you can shoot from as deep as he can," VanVleet said, "and just put your head down to get a whistle this season, it's tough to defend."
While Eagles coach LaVelle Moton was impressed with Ingram's performance, he grimaced while looking over the stat sheet,
"We've got to have better balance," Moton said. "You can't beat the No. (11) team in the country with one guy scoring double figures. If you look at their box score, with four guys doing it, that's the paradigm for how it's supposed to be done."
The game started to shift with seven minutes remaining in the first half. After Ingram hit a 3-pointer to make it 21-19 Shockers with 7:06 remaining, North Carolina Central did not score for five minutes.
"They went to a zone," Moton said, "and we looked like we've never seen a zone before in our lives."
Carter scored six points in the ensuing 15-0 run, and Wichita State led 40-24 at half.
The Eagles could have folded after enduring so many travel problems over the weekend. Stranded in Atlanta on Saturday night, they were forced to practice in a hotel parking lot. The team then arrived in Wichita in three shifts on Sunday. Nine bags were still missing, the assistant coaches had to wear warm-ups and some players didn't have their shoes.
But that thought went away 14 seconds into the second half when Ingram converted a four-point play.
"It took a chunk out of our lead," VanVleet said, "and they had momentum."
It wasn't just that Ingram, who entered the game averaging 23.2 points, was heating up, it's that he was doing it against Tekele Cotton, the Shockers' top defender.
When Ingram hit a 3-pointer with 16:59 remaining to get the Eagles within 44-36, he already had 10 points in the half, 20 in the game, and had cut Wichita State's 16-point halftime lead in half.
"We were not doing the things we wanted to do defensively," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said.
The Eagles did not score again for four minutes but stayed within striking distance.
Ingram scored five straight points, and the Shockers led 54-46 with 8:21 remaining.
It was still an eight-point game when Early hit a transition 3-pointer and Baker followed with a steal that led to VanVleet's layup that made it 66-53 Wichita State with 4:57 to play.
But Ingram continued to make it interesting. His deep 3 with 3:10 remaining pulled North Carolina Central within 68-60.
The Eagles had it down to 70-63 when Wichita State patiently worked the shot clock and found Baker in the corner. He swished a 3-pointer for a 73-63 lead with 1:40 remaining.
"I challenged our guys to respond at halftime, and I thought we responded," Moton said. "But to their credit, they hit huge shots. Huge shots."
When the Shockers forced a steal on the other end, leading to Early's dunk, Wichita State could finally relax.
"There's a lot of pressure as a team being undefeated this late into the season," Baker said.
Marshall credited his team's rebounding with keeping the North Carolina Central at bay.
"They were outrebounding their opponents so to outrebound them by 15 tonight is really good," he said. "Cleanthony really looked vertical tonight. He went up and got some rebounds."