Shockers trounce young Braves, stay undefeated in Valley

Evan Pflugradt, Sports Editor

The first visit to Charles Koch Arena for Bradley head coach Brian Wardle was full of difficulties, many before the team even arrived before the Saturday game against Wichita State.

Bradley’s chartered plane faced technical difficulties that delayed the Friday evening departure out of Peoria. The chartered flight was rescheduled for Saturday morning with an arrival into Wichita just two and a half hours prior to the tip at 2 p.m.

Bradley squared up against the Shockers as the nation’s youngest team. The first-time visit for 10 Braves showed that inexperience does not fare well in one of college basketball’s most premiere home courts.

WSU came out on top, 88-54.

Senior Fred VanVleet started the game with defensive pressure that led to a steal and got the Shockers running early on, WSU senior Ron Baker finished with a basket on the other end. VanVleet poked another loose ball that was snagged by WSU forward Shaq Morris, who caught some open space and hustled down the floor for a dunk.

“I have to give credit to Fred for the ball pressure,” Morris said on the dunk. “I saw my chance at the open court and I took it.

“It felt good.”

Trailing just 4-0 nearly a minute into the game, Wardle was pressured to call a timeout.

“The environment got to us right away,” Wardle said. “Their team got to us. They not only have talent and talented players, but they’re tough.”

Wardle tried to relax his young team, but the matchups never turned in favor of the Braves. The Shockers ran a 10-0 run before Bradley ever scored a point.

“They don’t stop,” Wardle said. “I was focused on teaching my team about their determination through the second half.”

VanVleet showed why his team has an undefeated stretch that has lasted more than a month since his return from an injured hamstring. The All-American point guard assisted or scored on six of the Shockers’ first 10 points, and his contributions on defense lead to two steals that produced the remaining four points.

VanVleet, the league’s leader in steals, tallied four total steals in the first half.

“Lead by example,” VanVleet said. “Bring intensity from the opening tip.

“If Ron (Baker) and I and the rest of the starting five can set the tempo and pace for the game early on, it is easier for everyone else to follow in.

“Getting out to a 10-0 start was a great way to set the tone.”

Wichita State got out and running early to close out the Braves. A pair of free throws by Zach Brown at the 10:40 mark of the first half put the Shockers up double-digits and things never turned back.

As the lead opened more in the Shockers’ favor, the opportunity presented itself for WSU head coach Gregg Marshall to take an eye into the future of Wichita State basketball.

Marshall ran rotations featuring the next generation backcourt of Conner Frankamp and Ty Taylor II. Alongside them, freshman forward Eric Hamilton, who Marshall said has been steadily developing outside the spotlight.

“It’s better for us to keep them out of the spotlight and develop at a more reasonable pace,” Marshall said of his freshmen. “It’s tough to play a lot of freshmen. It makes it more difficult. They’re able to get better in practice and learn how to do things our way without being called to do too much.”

Marshall rested the veteran backcourt of VanVleet and Baker for much of the second half. Taylor II said VanVleet’s vocality guided him.

“It’s an invaluable experience to be in the presence of two of the best players in the country,” Taylor II said. “Just being around them day-to-day is a learning experience. They don’t take days off.

“They lead by example.”

The Shockers entered the weekend the No. 19 team in the nation in bench scoring, averaging 29.6 points per game. Fourteen of the Shockers’ 15 active players scored a basket; the bench combined for 38 points.

“We were able to get 10 guys double-digit minutes,” Marshall said. “It’s very important. We were very balanced. Not that we’re trying to save our legs, but we weren’t taxed too much, it was a well-earned day off.”

VanVleet led the charge with 13 points and four assists, Baker scored 12, and Morris and McDuffie each had 10 points.

WSU extended their home winning streak — the nation’s longest — to 41 games. The Shockers remain undefeated in the Missouri Valley Conference.

“I don’t think this train is going to stop anytime soon,” VanVleet said. “[The underclassmen] have an incredible amount of talent. The hardest challenge for them is people’s expectations. Do you give into that or do you try to break through and make your own footsteps?”