Wichita State is forcing its way into college basketball history alongside the sport’s biggest names.
The second-ranked Shockers became the first team to go 30-0 in the regular season with Tuesday’s 69-49 win over Bradley at Carver Arena. They are one of 12 schools to reach 30-0 and the first 11 needed to win games in tournament play. That’s a list that includes four UCLA teams, 1976 Indiana, 1957 North Carolina and 1979 Indiana State.
Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor, Larry Bird and Scott May, meet the Shockers, 30-0 overall and 17-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Even in a season full of history and streaks, this game got the Shockers’ attention.
“It means a lot — you’re talking about 30 games in a row and all great teams in college hoops,” Wichita State sophomore guard Fred VanVleet said. “As a team — and not just one individual makes it even more glorifying for us — it’s a great honor. We’re going to try to get 31 on Saturday.”
Wichita State plays Missouri State on Saturday at Koch Arena, and the media horde will grow as the Shockers attempt to become the first team since Saint Joseph’s in 2004 to finish the regular season unbeaten.
The Shockers will deal with that Saturday. On Tuesday, No. 30 sounded sweet. Coach Gregg Marshall used that opportunity as his theme for the game.
“It’s a first,” Marshall said. “That’s all we talked about. These guys like to be the first and the only and the best. They love that challenge. They embrace it.”
Wichita State faced down another charged-up crowd and an energized opponent. Bradley, 12-18 and 7-10, fought for a half, beating up the Shockers on the boards, before it faded.
The Shockers made 10 of 21 three-pointers, including six of nine in the second half. Ron Baker led Wichita State with 15 points, making three of seven threes. Tekele Cotton added 13 points, and Cleanthony Early scored 12.
Bradley made just eight baskets in the second half and 16 of 59 for the game for 27.1 percent. Walt Lemon Jr. led Bradley with 18 points, needing 20 shots to get there. Tyshon Pickett also took 20 shots, and he scored 13 points.
The Shockers made four of five three-pointers in the first 5 minutes of the second half and went up 50-32. VanVleet, who took just one shot in the first half, made two of the threes, and he found Early in the corner for the third. Baker’s three gave Wichita State an 18-point lead with 12:57 to play.
“I think this one will hit me when I’m 40 and watching college basketball myself as a spectator,” Baker said.
Bradley’s offense went cold when the Shockers shut off the offensive rebounds. The Braves missed seven of their first 10 shots in the second half, but unlike the first half, they didn’t get second chances.
The Braves made a push, sparked by Auston Barnes’ outside shooting, and woke the crowd when Barnes’ three cut the lead to 57-42. Wichita State responded with a three by VanVleet and a basket in the lane by Chadrack Lufile and stretched the lead to 62-42.
Lemon scored the game’s next seven points and cut Wichita State’s lead to 62-49. The Shockers stopped that rally when Early’s hard contest forced Lemon to miss a shot in the lane.
Early missed a three, but Cotton hustled to keep the ball in Wichita State’s hands, and the possession ended with Darius Carter dunking. After Pickett missed two shots, Cotton banked in a jumper for a 66-49 lead and the threat died a quiet death.
In the first half, Wichita State went almost 4 minutes without a basket, and the Braves pulled within 26-22. Bradley matched Wichita State’s ferocity on the boards and a zone defense got the Shockers standing around.
Baker changed that tone with a three-pointer near the end of the shot clock that put Wichita State up 29-22. Early stole a pass near the foul line, chased it down near midcourt, and hit Carter with a bounce pass for a one-handed dunk. After a scary Brave turnover — Lemon Jr. hit his head on the court after teammate Jordan Prosser knocked him over chasing a rebound — Early made a three for a 34-22 lead.
Wichita State led 35-25 at halftime. The Braves shot a miserable eight for 34, yet stuck close because of 11 offensive rebounds and 10 second-chance points.
The Shockers made 11 of 23 shots and nine of 10 foul shots in the first half. Baker led Wichita State with nine first-half points and Cotton added eight.