Key statistics: The Shockers outscored Bradley 30-16 in the lane, 16-4 in the second half. WSU used that edge in the lane to shoot 14 second-half free throws and outscored Bradley 15-7 at the line for the game.
Records: BU 6-10, 1-2 MVC; WSU 13-2, 3-0
How the game turned: Ron Baker made consecutive three-pointers to give WSU a 37-32 lead in the second half, the key baskets in a 22-6 run that gave WSU a 49-34 lead.
Stat that shouldn’t surprise you: The Shockers out-rebounded Bradley 41-28, 12-6 on the offensive glass.
Stat that might surprise you: WSU guard Fred VanVleet played only 23 minutes, because of fouls and made time to hand out nine assists.
Next up: at Loyola (12-3, 2-1), 4 p.m. Sunday (ESPNU)
The Wichita Eagle: Rebounding edge shows the Shockers the way.
Bob Lutz: Marshall’s anger ignited the Shockers.
Peoria Journal Star: Cold shooting doomed Bradley.
▪ WSU coach Gregg Marshall seemed to be day-dreaming, or scheming, a bit as he discussed the play of Shaq Morris. The potential of a bigger lineup is one with many attractions. The Shockers are small with 6-foot-4 Evan Wessel playing power forward and while he can battle bigger players with his strength and hustle, it is better if his team doesn’t have to depend on him at the position full-time. The same goes for 6-6 freshman Rashard Kelly, who spent much of the season backing up Wessel. Wessel can toggle between big forward and small forward, depending on match-ups, and that can reduce the workload for Tekele Cotton and Ron Baker. Darius Carter can play as a normal-sized forward, if Morris can play center, and WSU is much closer to a ideal-sized team.
Marshall liked Bush Wamukota’s brief performance — two rebounds, two points in five minutes — and in moments like these we can see what an improved front-line rotation might look like. Carter is better at power forward, instead of trying to bang with 6-foot-10 post players and getting in foul trouble. Last season, he had Chadrack Lufile and Kadeem Coleby to handle the dirty work in the lane.
“Darius played (power forward) and (center) last year,” Marshall said. “This year, unfortunately, he’s played mostly (center). You’ve got to compare Darius as opposed to Rashard; Darius as opposed to Evan; Darius as opposed to (Zach) Brown.”
Morris (6-7, 261 pounds) is the key to all this maneuvering. Nobody is sure if he will continue to contribute at this pace. He barely played in Hawaii and his poor practice habits caught up to him when Marshall left him at home for the game at Drake.
Morris reversed course with solid games against Illinois State and Bradley. He averaged 9.5 points, made 7 of 12 shots, 5 of 8 free throws and 3.5 rebounds. He flashed a 12-foot jumper which can give defenses headaches. He’s made some nifty passes in his short career, enough to convince you he’s got some good instincts and could slice up defenses that double-team him, as he gains more experience.
He can also give WSU some much-needed rim protection. He blocked a shot against Bradley and seemed to influence several others. He blocked three shots against Illinois State.
Nobody believes his problems are all solved. He’s made progress before, then slipped. That’s normal for a freshman, but Morris’ history and the fact he redshirted last season means expectations and scrutiny are a little higher. He should be contributing more than most freshman because he practiced last season. When he wasn’t ready, it put more pressure on others.
He is on the right track for now.
“Clearly, his effort has been really good the past two games,” Bradley coach Geno Ford said. “They pulled that leave-him-at-home trick a week too early. We needed that one tonight. I don’t know why he was reinstated. They didn’t let me vote. I voted no.”
▪ When the season started, coaches weren’t sure if guard Corey Henderson Jr. could handle defensive pressure while handling the ball. His defense needed work.
They knew he could shoot, perhaps as well as anybody on the team. Henderson is improving his ball-handling and defense and staking a claim to the role of fourth guard. He played a season-high 18 minutes at Drake, making two threes, and topped that with 20 against Bradley.
“Every day in practice, I’m working on those two things,” he said. “Defense, taking care of the ball and rebounding are three big ways I’m going to get on the floor.”
Henderson remains a shooter, without a doubt. In 20 minutes, he put up seven shots, four from three-point range. He made one. While his defense wasn’t great, his height gives him a chance to bother shooters who drive into the lane against him.
Freshman. WSU’s goal is to turn a few good minutes into more good minutes. What can Henderson contribute in a month? We’ll see.
“He came in here thinking he didn’t have to play any defense,” Marshall said. “That didn’t go well for about a month-and-a-half. At least he’s trying. He’s doing better.”
▪ Ford said he thought the rash of illegal screen calls — five by my count — started when his team committed one early and put that violation high in the minds of the officials.
“There were some interesting moments, I suppose,” he said. “I think we had probably rolled a guy out blatantly early and we had a couple called on us. Usually, the officials, if they see those, will continue to look for them.”
▪ The Shockers needed a kick from the crowd and the crowd responded in the second half. Baker’s threes amped things up and Ford called timeout to try and quiet the buzz.
“We went zone and Baker jumped up and banged two threes,” Ford said. “The score was still just 37-32. You would thought we were down 15. We kind of reeled a little bit. I’ve been in college basketball 22 years and there’s only one other place I’ve ever been that I would say has a similar atmosphere (North Carolina). The atmosphere is incredible. It’s 1 or 1A in the nation.”
▪ Sunday’s game at Loyola is much more interesting than it appeared in September. The Ramblers were the surprise of the MVC after a strong non-conference performance that included wins over Texas Tech and Boise State. They backed that up with Wednesday’s 71-70 win at Evansville.
Loyola is shooting accurately to start MVC play — 46.7 percent overall and 39.7 percent from three-point range. They defend with gusto on the perimeter (holding teams to 28.4 percent shooting behind the arc). However, their lack of size hurts in the lane and they allow teams to make 58.7 percent of their two-point shots.