Bradley tried to make Wichita State win Sunday’s game from the three-point line. Whether or not that’s questionable strategy against this group of Shockers, it definitely highlights the dilemma defenses face and the influence center Darral Willis is writing on the scouting report.
“They’re going to pound people in the paint,” Bradley coach Brian Wardle said. “We wanted Wichita State to beat us from three. But not give them wide-open threes.”
The Shockers feasted on both those of those areas in a 100-66 win at Koch Arena, reaching 100 in a Missouri Valley Conference game for the first time since a 102-70 home win over Indiana State in 1988.
With Willis demanding a defense’s attention after averaging 21 points the past three games, the Shockers enjoyed plenty of open jumpers. They made 13 of 29 three-pointers, the fifth time this season with 10 or more. Superb passing resulted in 25 assists on 34 baskets — 18 of those assists from the starting five — and a rare complaint from a coach.
“They’re definitely unselfish,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “There are times when we should shoot the ball instead of pass it. Some times we pass up really good shots for really good shooters, just to do the one more pass.”
WSU defeated Bradley for the 14th straight time. It’s WSU’s second-longest streak against an MVC opponent and trails a 1979-85 streak against Drake by one game. The Shockers (12-3, 2-0 MVC) are 2-0 in the Valley for the fifth consecutive season. Bradley (6-9, 1-1) lost its eighth straight game at Koch Arena.
Landry Shamet and Willis both scored 15 for WSU. Shamet also handed out a season-high six assists. Freshman Austin Reaves made all four his threes to score a season-high 14 points in 10 minutes.
Bradley guard Darrell Brown scored 12 points and Nate Kennell added 10.
The Shockers entered the game with a desire (10 games with 20 or more three-point attempts) and the accuracy (seven games making 40 percent or better) to turn Wardle’s plan into a mess. They knew the Braves would keep their defenders inside the line to cut off penetration and limit Willis and Shaq Morris, who returned after missing two games with a right thigh contusion.
It’s a pick-your-poison choice that most MVC coaches will make and many will follow Wardle’s lead and hope the Shockers go cold.
“As a guard, it’s kind of nice knowing you’re going to get open looks,” Shamet said. “We knew they kind of like to pack it in. That’s obviously a testament to our bigs and how well they’ve played, especially Darral last game.”
Bradley’s plan did not call for allowing that many open jump shots. Some came after offensive rebounds or turnovers. Some came because the Braves couldn’t move fast enough to match WSU’s passing.
“We just had no resistance on the three-point line,” Wardle said. “Defensively, we didn’t have multiple efforts. We didn’t rotate. Very, very disappointing.”
WSU held Bradley to fewer baskets than turnovers for the third straight meeting. The Braves committed 16 in the first half and seven in the second half, leading to 38 Shocker points.
The Shockers made their first six shots, most of them uncontested, on their way to a 13-0 lead. Markis McDuffie made two three-pointers in that stretch and Willis scored twice.
“When you play a good team in this arena, this atmosphere, you’ve got to have a good start,” Wardle said. “We had a poor start and could never recover.”
Bradley’s turnover issues opened the door for the rout. It committed three turnovers in its first four possessions and finished the first half with 16 turnovers and nine baskets. WSU scored 23 points off turnovers in the first half and 14 off seven offensive rebounds.
The Braves cut WSU’s lead to 18-11 and then lost contact for good. Reaves started WSU’s 9-0 run with a three and the Braves returned to form with a turnover in the form of a steal by Zach Brown. Shaq Morris, back in the rotation after missing two games with a thigh injury, gave WSU a 27-11 lead with a three-point play.
WSU closed the half with an 8-3 run, helped by Bradley turnovers on its final three possessions, to go up 51-29 at halftime. Shamet led the Shockers with 13 first-half points with Willis adding 10.
The Braves shot 9 of 20 from the field in the first half and made 8 of 9 foul shots. WSU made 7 of 16 three-pointers and 17 of 33 shots.
The second half started with two bank shots by Rauno Nurger and continued with Reaves breaking free for three threes during an 11-2 run that gave WSU a 72-39 lead. After Reaves’ final basket of that stretch, Wardle called timeout and took a long way into the foul lane, looking downcast and pondering what to tell his team.