WICHITA, Kan. — Junior guard Fred VanVleet motioned for the crowd to get up and cheer when Wichita State took a lead in the first half Wednesday.
Last season, such pleas seemed like a request to join the fun. This season, the Shockers need the help.
No. 15 Wichita State muddled along with Bradley for almost 30 minutes before brushing away the Braves for a 63-43 win at Koch Arena. It took longer than expected, longer than it should, in the view of the Shockers because of a lackluster first half.
Coach Gregg Marshall noticed the lack of energy and waited for his players to address it at halftime. When he didn’t hear voices other than VanVleet’s, he entered the room and demanded more energy.
Marshall helped by stomping on the sideline after a charging call in the second half. He took off his jacket and chastised the officials, almost begging for a technical foul, in part to fire up his team. The crowd helped, and after many starts and restarts, the Shockers pulled away.
“I didn’t recognize that team, that effort, that execution, that determination,” Marshall said. “We’re missing layups. We’re making bad decisions. You can see what we can do in the second half.”
The Shockers (13-2, 3-0 Missouri Valley Conference) blew the game open with a 22-6 run after halftime. Wichita State outrebounded Bradley 25-12 in the second half and held the Braves to four second-half baskets.
“I usually feed off our coach or the atmosphere,” Wichita State junior guard Ron Baker said. “That’s what sparked our run in the second half.”
Wichita State worked out of miserable offensive half. Bradley’s season-long shooting problems continued. The Braves (6-10, 1-2) missed 14 of their first 16 shots after leading 28-27 at halftime.
After an ugly start to the second half, Baker found room to shoot. He made two 3-pointers to give Wichita State a 37-32 lead and bring the crowd to life. Bradley coach Geno Ford called timeout but couldn’t change the momentum.
“They were just rhythm shots for me,” Baker said. “Coming left off a ball screen … it’s a comfortable shot. I can make it, or the whole team is going to the glass. My teammates know when I’m going to shoot, and that’s a plus.”
Baker’s layup made it 39-32. Senior forward Darius Carter converted a three-point play and made four free throws to push the lead to 46-34.
Ford wasn’t at all surprised to see Baker take over.
“It always feels like it’s always him,” Ford said. “You know you can’t leave him, and he finds a way to get one off.”
Carter led Wichita State with 19 points, making nine of 14 foul shots. Baker added 12 points, and freshman center Shaq Morris scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
Wichita State, outrebounded in its first two MVC games, won that battle 41-28, including a 12-6 edge on the offensive glass.
Guard Ka’Darryl Bell led Bradley with 11 points. The Braves shot 34.8 percent for the game, 18.2 percent in the second half.
Morris continued his run as an unlikely source as a spark of energy. He missed the conference opener at Drake because Marshall left him at home when Morris wasn’t practicing hard.
Morris scored nine points in a win over Illinois State and continued his hard work against Bradley. After a missed foul shot, he tipped the rebound and dived on the floor to grab the ball. Marshall greeted him on the bench with a thump on the chest.
“Shaq isn’t surprising us,” Carter said. “We’ve seen it in spurts. He’s got to make himself do it every day.”
The crowd endured a first half in which both teams struggled on offense. The Shockers shot poorly (37 percent) and made five of eight foul shots. Bradley, after a bad start, made 12 of 24 first-half shots but committed seven turnovers and didn’t make a free throw.
The Shockers led 23-21 on a 3-pointer by Baker and 25-23 on a basket by Morris. Bradley responded each time and ended the half on a 5-2 run. Senior forward Auston Barnes (10 points overall) scored eight points in the first half and cooled Wichita State rallies with two three 3-pointers.
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