Bradley coach Geno Ford gives a straight-forward scouting report on No. 5 Wichita State. Believe the numbers and believe the reputation.
“We’ve actually been playing well the past three games and they just had their way,” Ford said. “They’re a great team. They deserve their ranking.”
The Shockers routed Bradley 72-50 on Tuesday night at Koch Arena to remain one of the nation’s three unbeaten teams and extend its school-record win streak to 18 games.
Unlike Saturday, when the Shockers needed to rally from 19 points to win at Missouri State in overtime, Bradley on Tuesday offered no resistance after the early minutes.
WSU coach Gregg Marshall started playing his deep reserves with 13 minutes to play, treating fans to the unexpected sight of walk-on John Robert Simon guarding Bradley leading scorer Walt Lemon Jr. The Shocker starters, three of whom played 40-plus minutes Saturday, relaxed and cheered from the bench for most of the game’s final 10 minutes.
Changing venues and opponents and grew WSU’s reserves from a bunch of watchers to players capable of helping. Freshman Derail Green scored eight points in the first half. Center Darius Carter scored 11 in 14 minutes. Center Kadeem Coleby grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots.
The reserves soaked up minutes, survived a sprained ankle that kept sophomore Evan Wessel on the bench, and gave the starters a break. Marshall can return to practice feeling he has something to work with heading into Saturday’s showdown with Indiana State at Koch Arena. The Sycamores (13-3, 4-0) play host to Missouri State on Wednesday.
After Saturday’s game, Marshall looked at one of his freshmen and said, “We need more horses.” He’s said that a lot recently.
"We got some guys some quality minutes tonight and we were able to rest a lot of the starters," Marshall said. "We’re trying to lengthen our bench. We’re trying to get more guys that can pull the wagon."
Fred VanVleet led WSU with 22 points, matching his career high. Darius Carter came off the bench to score 11 points. VanVleet, who played 43 minutes on Saturday, happily gave up some playing time.
"It couldn’t have come at a better time," he said. "We definitely need it and it would be nice if they would be a little bit more urgent about it."
The Shockers (18-0, 5-0 Missouri Valley Conference) moved into a three-way tie for sixth on the MVC’s career list of win streaks. WSU is 5-0 in the MVC for the first time since 1982-83.
Bradley (6-12, 1-4) lost its sixth straight road game. It lost for the fifth straight time at Koch Arena and its eighth straight to WSU. In the past four visits, Bradley has lost by 31, 37, 20 and 22 points.
Ford can list the reasons. The Shockers are bigger and more athletic. They block shots. They don’t turn the ball over.
"Your normal physicalness is not good enough against these guys," he said. "We tried to tell them. Then the game starts. As the game wore on and we got tired and got in foul trouble, they hit another level."
Lemon led Bradley with 12 points. With Tekele Cotton handling most of the defensive duties, Lemon shot 5 of 14 and committed three turnovers.
The Shockers held Bradley to 35.2-percent shooting and scored 16 points off 13 Braves turnovers. WSU made 23 of 29 free throws, outscoring Bradley by 15 points the foul line.
The Shockers led 40-23 at halftime and opened the second half with a 7-0 run. The Braves couldn’t score and couldn’t handle WSU’s pressure defense.
"We were very active in our pressure,” Marshall said. “We got a lot of deflections, steals. We were able to get them playing maybe a little faster than they wanted.”
WSU received a welcome, and surprising boost, to go up by 17 at halftime. Green came off the bench to score a season-high eight points, making two three-pointers. He also grabbed two steals and took a charge.
“He’s a guy that hasn’t been called upon a lot and he kind of seized the moment,” Ford said. “Those two threes he made in the first half were back-breakers. That’s what sprung the game open.”
The Shockers took an 11-4 lead and Bradley scored seven straight. Those minutes provided most of the highlights for the Braves, who watched the Shockers go on a 14-3 run that decided things. WSU forced three turnovers during that span.
VanVleet, who scored 14 first-half points, scored seven in a row to put WSU up 32-15. Green followed with all eight of his points to make it 40-20.
Bradley lacked the assets to make any kind of push in the second half. That was fine with the Shockers, who got their fill of drama on Saturday after trailing by 18 at halftime. Walk-ons played in the second half. Starters cheered and began to think about Saturday’s meeting with the Sycamores with a first place at stake.