Key statistics: Maybe Bradley is better without all those guards. The Braves, with three guards sidelined, started a one-guard, four-forward lineup and played no more than two guards all game. With a bigger lineup, Bradley out-rebounded WSU 20-14 in the second half with 12 second-chance points on 10 offensive rebounds.
Records: WSU 20-3, 10-1 MVC; BU 7-17, 2-9
How the game turned: Down 57-47, Bradley’s next sequence defined the second half. Bradley’s Donte Thomas missed two free throws, but guard Omari Grier rebounded. He missed a jumper and the Braves rebounded again. Thomas missed a three. After turnovers by both teams and a Shocker miss, Bradley’s Tramique Sutherland scored to cut WSU’s lead to eight points.
Stat that shouldn’t surprise you: WSU’s Ron Baker played a well-rounded offensive game with 14 points, five rebounds and five assists. He made 4 of 6 shots, 3 of 4 threes. Baker’s shooting and chasedown blocks often overshadow his passing. On Wednesday, he had two beauties, one a spray-ahead to Fred VanVleet for a layup and another when he rewarded Shaq Morris for running hard with with a one-touch pass to the cutter for a layup.
Stat that might surprise you: Despite the lack of guards, the Braves only committed 10 turnovers and gave up five points to the Shockers on those mistakes. Before the game, Bradley coach Geno Ford warned media members to be alert for flying basketballs because he expected the Shockers to panic his inexperienced ball-handlers with pressure. WSU pressed, but it rarely seemed to bother the Braves.
Next up: vs. Missouri State, 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)
▪ I expected the Shockers to blow out the Braves, especially after Saturday’s loss to Northern Iowa. Bradley coach Geno Ford expected to see a fired-up opponent and was quite certain the Panthers did him no favors.
WSU’s M.O. is usually to bounce back with a ferocious effort after a rough patch. They didn’t, although coach Gregg Marshall will remind us never to regret a road win. Was he happy with WSU’s response to Saturday’s loss?
“For parts of the game, but not completely,” he said. “But, again, I’m not going to take anything away from a win. Any time you can win on the road. Any time you can win on the road in league, we’re going to take it.”
“They’re a great team,” he said. “I don’t know if they played great, but they’re a great team and they’re going to be a great team. I thought our kids really fought and competed as hard as they are capable of competing.”
The Shockers committed a number of unforgivable sins that will get addressed in film and practices, blown defensive assignments, rebounding and poor passing decisions.
“We’ve still got work to do, obviously,” WSU forward Darius Carter said. “We’re just in a little bit of a slump right now, trying to get out of it. The win definitely helped.”
Marshall’s muted reaction to a game that sent many fans to a fitful sleep may also have something to do with rallying around Ford, who is 44-79 in his fourth season. Complaining that his team should have won by 30 could be considered bad form when Ford needs a little support.
“They were a huge team for the better part of the game,” Marshall said. “They compete. They work hard. At one point, you think the game is over. Then it’s not over. That’s a credit to them.”
Ford didn’t see a team in crisis.
“You’re seeing a great team that’s been through a long year,” he said. “Realize that a lot of their offense comes from two guards. And then Cotton is certainly a key. So a lot of jump shots. A lot of quickness needed. Big doesn’t get small. Quick gets tired. They maybe just hit a little lull, a little lag in the season. But, if that’s a bad game, I wish our good game was their bad game. If I could have one wish, that’s what I would pick.”
▪ Ford said his team played better man to man defense than in the Jan. 7 meeting, a 63-43 Shockers win at Koch Arena. WSU’s Darius Carter and Morris both had big games and the Braves limited their switching on screens in the rematch to avoid mismatches.
“Shaq Morris and Carter ate our guards for lunch in the post,” Ford said. “Tonight, we didn’t do that … tried to keep big on big and guard on guard.”
▪ WSU was going to foul on Bradley’s final possession, leading 62-59, before Evan Wessel picked off the inbound pass.
“I didn’t want (Auston) Barnes or (Tramique) Sutherland or (Donte) Thomas to get a good look at a three,” Marshall said. “They had five guys who could make them out there. We denied Sutherland the ball, so then they had to make another decision, and it turned out not to be a great one.”
Thomas threw the inbound pass toward the 6-foot-8 Barnes and it sailed short and Wessel beat Barnes to the ball.
“We were trying to throw it long and run guys down the sidelines,” Ford said. “We were probably six inches away from a catch.”
▪ WSU built a 35-22 halftime lead after a slow start against Bradley’s zone. It scored eight points in the first 8 minutes of the half and then got hot when the guards probed into the zone and made the Braves react and leave shooters open.
“We knew they were going to play zone and we practiced against it,” Carter said. “We were just moving around and trying to find open spots.”