It is hard — perhaps impossible — to shake Cleanthony Early’s faith in his scoring abilities.
On Wednesday, he showed why. He scored 11 points in 13 minutes in a 75-63 win over Drake. Outside shooting made the performance particularly notable. Early, after going 2 for 12 in his previous four games from three-point range, made all three against the Bulldogs’ shaky perimeter defense.
The perfect night raised his season total to 11 of 42 (26.2 percent). So three-point shooting hasn’t been his thing, besides Wednesday’s game and a 3-for-6 performance against Iowa.
A few misses don’t bother Early. He shot 25 percent from three as a freshman at Sullivan County (N.Y.) Community College before improving to 37 percent as a sophomore.
“The best thing you can do when you miss a shot is think the next one is going in,” he said.
With leading scorer Carl Hall sidelined until mid-January with a broken right thumb, Early is WSU’s best scoring threat. He averages 13.1 points and makes 54 percent of his two-point shots. He’s got rare height, quickness and skill for a Missouri Valley Conference forward, and those skills are accentuated when he can make three-pointers.
Most Valley forwards are shooters who like to face the basket and score from the wing. Early can do that, and he can post up and score with either hand around the basket. Making threes will force defenders to guard him more closely, opening up room for driving.
“It’s his versatility that jumps out at you,” said Bradley coach Geno Ford, whose team takes on Early on Sunday in Peoria, Ill. “He’s a big, big problem for everyone. Not many guys can do what he can do.”
Early is working to refine his outside shot.
“I’ve got to slow down a little bit,” he said. “But it’s getting better. Take my time and make sure my feet are set, my arch is high. Follow through.”
WSU coach Gregg Marshall’s policy is usually to leave shooters to work through slumps on their own, as long as they take good shots. Early likes that approach, saying that when Marshall stays “out of his air” it helps his confidence.
“He sees me make them in practice a lot,” Early said. “He knows I can shoot them. He’s just waiting for that day where I light it up.”
How it is done — Ford is doing an impressive job rebuilding Bradley in his second season. When he recruits, he has a firm idea of the type of athlete it will take to win the Valley.
It will take ones similar to ones recruited by WSU. The skill on the Shocker roster stands out to Ford, as does the depth of talent assembled by WSU coaches.
“They’re the best recruiters in the league,” he said. “I don’t think it’s close. Early, he’s a BCS player. Nick Wiggins, BCS player. Those guys just don’t wake up in the morning and decide to go somewhere.”
One of the characteristics Ford likes about forward Tyshon Pickett, a Bradley transfer from Dodge City Community College, is that he reminds him of a WSU big man.
“He’s given us one guy that has a similar mentality to the Wichita post players,” Ford said. “Wichita post guys are relentless in their effort and relentless in their physicality.”
Barry’s return to MSU — Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson liked getting his return to Missouri State out of the way early. SIU lost 70-59 at MSU, the school where he coached for nine seasons, a week ago.
The drama surrounding his return didn’t dampen his ability to speak colorfully after the game. Aside from the score, he enjoyed his return to Springfield, seeing friends and the applause he received from fans.
“They’re charging $75 for the first five rows — hey ‘Welcome back Barry,’ ” he said with a big grin. “They didn’t pay (me) when I was here, but they sure made money off (me) when I came back.”
Hinson enjoyed seeing JQH Arena, a place he helped design but never coached in. He took a few minutes to visit the Hammons Student Center, MSU’s home court until 2008.
“I went in Hammons and I sat down in my old chair and I just sat there and reflected,” he said. “Hammons is a pretty special place for me. (JQH) is a nice place. This isn’t my place. It’s Cuonzo (Martin’s) and Paul’s (Lusk’s) place.”
Worth noting — WSU’s women’s tennis team is No. 62 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings to start 2013. Freshman Rebecca Pedrazzi is No. 20 in the Central Region and the doubles team of Veronika Blaskova and Lucia Kovalova are No. 9.… WSU opens its indoor track and field season on Wednesday with the Herm Wilson Invitational at the Heskett Center. Punch passes for $10 are available and are good for admission to two indoor and two outdoor meets. For information call 316-978-3267 or visit goshockers.com.