Bradley played the first half on its terms. Low scoring, most possessions limited to half-court grinding, and its defense made it work.
Wichita State opened up the Carver Arena court in the second half by pressing to use all 94 feet, and running the pick and roll to spread Bradley’s defense over the 50-foot width. After a miserable first half, the Shockers changed the state of play in the second 20 minutes to defeat Bradley 64-49 on Sunday.
“Our mindset wasn’t really right coming out, wasn’t what it needed to be,” WSU guard Landry Shamet said. “We kind of paid for it in the first half.”
WSU coach Gregg Marshall didn’t see that first-half malaise coming, but he wasn’t necessarily shocked. The Shockers often aren’t pushed, and in the first game against Bradley they led 13-0 on their way to a 100-66 win.
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Coaches can tell players — especially inexperienced players — that things are different on the road. Sometimes, that’s a lesson they only learn through experience.
“It’s hard for young guys, I think, to have it come so easily at home, the way it did, and then think that it’s going to be any different on the road,” Marshall said. “We, as coaches, knew that. They’re young people.”
WSU (19-4, 9-1 MVC) defeated Bradley for the 15th straight time to match its longest streak against an MVC opponent.
Bradley (8-15, 3-7) lost its fifth straight game.
Shamet led the Shockers with 19 points and six assists. Conner Frankamp matched his career high with 15 points. Markis McDuffie grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds and scored nine points.
The Shockers made 15 of 25 shots and 5 of 9 three-pointers in the second half to shake off a miserable 20 minutes and outscore Bradley 44-24. They finished with a season-high 18 turnovers, 13 in the first half.
Darrell Brown led Bradley with 18 points. The Braves shot 34 percent for the game and missed 15 of 19 threes, 8 of 9 in the second half.
Bradley mucked up WSU’s offense in the first half by double-teaming post players and recovering quickly to guard shooters. That tactic took the ball away from WSU’s big men and turned them from shooters into passers. Darral Willis, Rauno Nurger and Shaq Morris combined to make 1 of 7 shots and commit five turnovers in the first half.
The Shockers helped by missing 9 of 10 three-pointers.
“We kind of settled for jumpers too early,” Shamet said. “We could have got better looks.”
The turnovers came in all shapes —bad passes, charging fouls, traveling. The 13 first-half turnovers were more than they committed in 13 games this season. Marshall estimated at least five bad shots, one by McDuffie late in the half to give Bradley an bonus possession.
“That’s how you score 20 in a half,” Marshall said.
But WSU found something that worked late in the first half when Bradley center Koch Bar reacted slowly guarding the pick and roll. Assistant coach Greg Heiar yelled to keep running it and the Shockers picked up that thread in the second half. The high ball-screen pulled Bradley’s big men away from the basket to open driving lanes and put WSU’s big men on the move and away from double teams.
“First of all, we got shots,” Marshall said. “We didn’t turn it over. We were aggressive on the ball screen. We were rolling pretty hard, we were cutting from the corners.”
Shamet — who produced a three-point play off the pick and roll late in the first half — and Frankamp both manufactured points using those screens. The tactic broke up Bradley’s wall of bodies around the lane and restored flow to the Shocker offense.
“They did a really good job when we were throwing it in the post,” Shamet said. “We felt like our guards could attack and get downhill and make plays for other people.”
The Shockers played with more purpose, if not always grace, in the second half. A 9-2 run tied the game at 29-all. A basket by Rauno Nurger gave WSU a 31-29 lead.
A basket by Shaq Morris, off a pick and roll, gave WSU a 40-36 lead to start a 13-2 run. Shamet’s three gave the Shockers a 45-38 lead. A three by Frankamp made it 51-38. Frankamp ended a brief Bradley burst with another three and a steal.
“We knew they’d come out and impose their will on us,” Bradley coach Brian Wardle said. “We just weren’t able to execute like we did the first half. We gave Frankamp and Shamet open looks.”