Bob Lutz

Shockers handle Bradley but the coaches don’t stop battling

Gregg Marshall didn’t care for the question. But in another Shocker blowout, this time 82-56 over Bradley in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament Friday night, what else was there?

When the Braves’ Darrell Brown knocked down WSU’s Darral Willis from behind as Willis darted to the basket uncontested, Brown was called for a flagrant technical foul. Willis hit the floor and slammed into the padded base of the goal post and needed a few seconds to make sure his faculties were still working.

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They were.

Marshall took exception to the foul and let Brown know. Bradley coach Brian Wardle took exception to Marshall talking to Brown and let Marshall know.

Willis, meanwhile, went to the free-throw line and made both shots.

There wasn’t much else of interest in the game. The Shockers started slowly, found their stride, went up by 26 points at halftime and cruised with reserves playing most of the final 10 minutes.

“Yeah, I just — I thought (Brown) could have displayed a little more restraint,” Marshall said. “I basically said, ‘Hey, can you do that?’ And Brian didn’t like it.”

Then Marshall addressed the question, which I asked.

“Is that the most important thing you saw out there?” Marshall asked. “That’s quite a question. We scored 82, also.”

Valid point, but the exchange between Marshall and Brown and Wardle and Marshall was the most interesting thing that happened in this game.

Wardle screamed at Marshall, so much so that official John Higgins had to settle Wardle down. It was spunk from a Braves coach trying to rebuild a once proud program and I kind of liked it.

It reminded me of Marshall, who was tossed from his first MVC tournament game against Indiana State in 2008 after getting whistled for two technical fouls.

Marshall has proven than spunk can be a key ingredient for a coach in rebuilding mode.

Wardle, in his second season at Bradley, called the verbal sparring “competitors being competitors.”

“Well, I didn’t really see the foul live,” he said. “I think it’s a very competitive game. We obviously were trying — I challenged my team to compete to the very end, to play physical.”

Wardle blew up, though, when he saw Marshall talking to Brown.

“I just said, ‘Let’s not talk to each other’s players, let’s just coach our own players.’ Like I said, it’s competition, the heat of the battle. It can get emotional and that’s why sports is so great.”

There’s no coach more competitive or emotional than Marshall, who didn’t relent Friday as the Shockers were beating Bradley for the 16th consecutive time since 2011.

The Braves are in no position to beat Wichita State, yet, but that didn’t keep Marshall from pressing his team to play better, work harder, be everything they could be.

Not getting caught up in scoreboard is one of Marshall’s greatest strengths. He coaches a million miles per hour from start to finish.

The Shockers were cold early, struggling with Bradley’s double-teaming of their interior players. Finally, guard Conner Frankamp warmed up and forward Rashard Kelly, playing the best basketball of his career, found the holes inside. Kelly had 14 points and seven rebounds while Willis, who also figured out how to exploit Bradley’s interior, had 17 points and seven rebounds.

Most of Wichita State’s key players spent much of the second half on the bench, wrapped in towels inside a frigid Scottrade Center. Again, the Shockers used depth to carry the day; WSU’s bench outscored Bradley by 17 points, the Shockers held a 14-rebound advantage and held Bradley to 38.2 percent shooting, just 23.5 percent in the first half.

This tournament deserves what everyone expects, an Illinois State-Wichita State final Sunday afternoon. The Redbirds also did their part Friday, knocking off Evansville in the first quarterfinal. Both teams were 17-1 during the Valley’s regular season with the lone loss against one another.

Wichita State has won 13 straight games and 19 of 20. The Shockers are 28-4. But the unknown remains how much of this team’s shiny record has been built on the weakness of the Valley.

My answer? Probably some, but it’s foolish to discout Wichita State because of its conference.

“We’ve plaeyd really well,” Frankamp said of the stretch since a 76-62 loss at Illinois State on Jan. 14. “Coach changed some things around and we’ve been on a roll and we just want to keep that momentum going. We just want to make it to the Big Dance.”

It’ll be an upset if the Shockers don’t get to another NCAA Tournament. This is one of Marshall’s best teams and the relative weakness of the Valley shouldn’t be held against this group.

Wardle did stand up to Marshall on Friday night. It was an interesting gesture from a coach still earning his stripes. The two coaches breezed past one another after the game. Maybe someday, a Bradley-Wichita State game will match the drama provided briefly by the two coaches.

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