ST. LOUIS — Bradley didn’t score more points than Wichita State’s reserves until 12 minutes, 15 seconds remained in Friday’s game.
That’s good for the Shockers, who were up 18 points at the time. What’s even better is that the starters handed the bench a lead. When that happens, it’s hard to handle second-seeded Wichita State. The Shockers cruised past 10th-seeded Bradley 70-56 on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at the Scottrade Center.
Shocker coach Gregg Marshall liked most of what he saw, especially in light of last Saturday’s disturbing offensive performance in a loss at Missouri State. He isn’t getting too excited, however, knowing that the Shockers did what was expected.
“It’s a quality win against a team that’s a little undermanned,” he said. “We’re supposed to win.”
WSU (24-7) plays third-seeded Indiana State (18-13) or sixth-seeded Evansville (16-14) in today’s semifinal.
The Shockers are in the semis for the second straight season thanks to one of their more complete efforts in recent weeks. They erased the problems from the Missouri State loss with crisp execution on offense.
The Shockers moved the ball, passed and used their size advantage to its fullest. Center Garrett Stutz came off the bench with starter J.T. Durley in foul trouble to score 11 first-half points and 16 for the game. Gabe Blair added eight points and eight rebounds.
Bradley’s size and bulk took a hit when center Jordan Prosser dislocated his left kneecap in Thursday’s win over Drake.
“We really stress getting the ball inside, because we all know that that’s our strength,” WSU guard Joe Ragland said. “We get the ball to them and they’re going to kick it out to us.”
A lot of Shockers played well, which didn’t always happened when they lost two of three games to end the regular season. Durley got the starters going with a short jumper and they handed an 11-6 lead to the reserves. Both groups contributed to a 9-0 run to end the half and a 9-2 run to start the second half. WSU led 49-29 with 12:26 to play, with 30 points coming from reserves.
“Everyone on this team knows that anyone can beat anybody in this tournament,” WSU reserve David Kyles said. “We’re going to always be aggressive and hopefully make shots and outscore their bench every day. Coach tries to keep fresh legs out there and do everything he can to give us the best chance.”
No Shocker played more than 24 minutes and seven scored between six and 16 points.
“I hope (depth) is a benefit we’ll be discussing about 3:05 on Sunday (after the championship game),” Marshall said. “That’s when we’ll decide what kind of benefit it is.”
Kyles did his part coming off the bench with seven first-half points. Stutz played the role of first-half closer, scoring seven of his 11 points in the final 4:36.
“He was aggressive and finishing around the basket,” Ragland said.
With Durley sitting with two fouls, the Shockers needed production from Stutz against the smaller Braves. He made 4 of 5 shots —missing an open layup — to score 11 first-half points. He started WSU’s closing run in the first half with a jumper to make it 28-22. He followed with a three-pointer from the wing for a 31-22 lead.
Ragland scored after a Bradley turnover. After another, Stutz passed from the top of the key over a defender to Blair for a layup and a 35-22 lead at halftime.
“That spurt at the end of the first half was the difference in the game,” Marshall said. “It just came down to our depth again and we were able to be fresh at that point.”
The break didn’t stop WSU’s momentum. Bradley helped by committing three turnovers and missing three shots to start the second half, forcing coach Jim Les to call timeout with 17:23 remaining and his team down 39-22.
“They’re running guys in left and right and coming in with fresh bodies that are energetic and continue to be physical,” Les said. “That takes a lot out of you with fresh guys pounding on you all the time. Our big guys were huffing and puffing.”
WSU’s depth did its job on defense, as well. Graham Hatch and Ben Smith took turns harassing Bradley leading scorer Andrew Warren. WSU’s Toure Murry led the effort on Dyricus Simms-Edwards, who had scored 15 or more points in six straight games. The Shockers held him to four on 1-of-9 shooting.