It appeared Wichita State’s days of beating Bradley by 30-plus points ended after a close game on the road three weeks ago. Saturday’s game appeared headed in the same direction through much of the first half.
Then a different WSU team appeared and it ran past Bradley for a 73-39 win at Koch Arena. The 20th-ranked Shockers pressed to speed up the game and the Braves fell apart with turnovers and missed shots.
“They sniffed out exactly what we were trying to do,” Bradley coach Geno Ford said. “We kept the tempo where it needed to be for about 18 minutes. We were trying to keep it slow. They were really smart.”
The Shockers (19-2, 8-1 Missouri Valley Conference) remained in first place in the MVC at the halfway point of the conference schedule. They won their 19th straight at Koch Arena and stretched their winning streak over Bradley (12-9, 4-5) to seven games, adding a 34-point margin to 38- and 39-point routs last season. WSU held Bradley, which played without injured center Will Egolf, to its lowest score since a 37-point effort in a 1992 loss at Southwest Missouri State.
WSU coach Gregg Marshall, after watching his team win 69-63 at Bradley, wanted no part of a grinding, low-possession game. Running offense against Bradley’s half-court defense is no fun, so he slapped on the press and loosened things up.
“The last 25 minutes we were really good, about as well as we can play,” he said. “The first 15 minutes had me scared. They were doing a good job of keeping the tempo down and milking the clock.”
Most of the credit goes to the full-court zone press, which Ford said enticed the Braves to play at speeds beyond their capabilities. When they broke the press, they often turned the ball over or missed shots. The Shockers preyed on almost every mistake and turned them into easy baskets against an unorganized defense. WSU scored 14 points off turnovers in the second half and 11 off offensive rebounds.
WSU forced 10 Bradley turnovers in the second half and held the Braves to 6-of-21 shooting. WSU made 14 of 27 shots and when it missed, often rebounded. The Shockers grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the second half.
“Once we got stops and was getting rebounds, we started to push it down their throats at the other end,” WSU guard Malcolm Armstead said. “They weren’t really getting back, so we just played opportunity basketball.”
WSU opened the half slowly adding to its 32-23 halftime lead. Up 43-32, it hit the Braves with a dominating stretch in which everything worked. The Shockers jetted to a 16-0 run and led 59-32 with 8:37 remaining. Nick Wiggins started the run with a three-pointer and added two more during that stretch, supplying the Shockers with a scoring threat it sometimes lacks. Bradley missed three shots and then committed five turnovers during that span.
“They don’t go on small runs, they go on big runs,” Ford said. “When they smell some blood in the water, they hit another level of energy, and the crowd is a significant part of that.”
Wiggins led WSU with 12 points, all in the second half. Jake White scored 11, nine in the second half. Armstead and Cleanthony Early each added 10. Walt Lemon Jr. led Bradley with 14 points, 10 in the first half.
WSU guard Demetric Williams provided a preview of the second half late in the first half. He made two free throws with 12 seconds to play to give WSU a 30-23 lead. Then he snuck behind Bradley’s Jake Eastman, near the Bradley foul line, and stole the ball. Williams turned, dribbled through defenders and scored with two seconds to play for a 32-23 lead at the break.
“That got the ball going and we tried to keep it going from there,” Early said. “Coach wanted to start pressing these guys. We had to go out and give some effort and create turnovers, which hopefully leads to some baskets.”