Score: WSU 69, Bradley 63
Key statistics: The Shockers made one more three, two more field goals and one more free throw.
How the game turned: WSU closed the game with a 10-2 run in the final 3:30, started with five straight points by Cleanthony Early.
Records: WSU 14-1, 3-0 MVC; BU 10-5, 2-1
- The winning formula for WSU in its short-handed existence is play tons of defense and wait for Cleanthony Early to give it a scoring burst for separation. Early scored 24 points against Bradley, his fourth 20-point game of the season. Last season, Garrett Stutz scored 20 or more six times. In 2010-11, the entire team produced five 20-point scorers. While there are several Shockers who can score, it’s Early who scares opposing defenses the most, especially when he is making threes. Early is 8 of 14 from three the past three games. Just as important, he wants to shoot late in the game. “You have to do what you do and show you’re ready for moments like those,” he said.
- Early scored 24 points in 24 minutes, because he sat out seven-plus minutes in the second half after he picked up his third foul, when he whacked Bradley’s Walt Lemon hard on a drive to the basket. WSU coach Gregg Marshall also wanted to give him time to regroup after he clearly got frustrated with a no-call. “I had to get my composure back because I thought felt like there were a couple plays where a few things were being done,” he said. “I’ve just got to forget about it.” Marshall also used the bench time to stop Early’s attempts at hero-ball on NBA-style isolation plays. “Coming right out of halftime, he forced two straight shots,” Marshall said. “He was going to make a few plays and he was going to carry us and we were all going to ride off into the sunset. It doesn’t work that way. He’s talented, but it’s going to take more than that.”
- Ehimen Orukpe does for WSU’s defense what Early does on offense. He takes WSU’s defense from good to great with his shot-blocking ability. He had five on Sunday, erasing several easy baskets for the Braves in a game that could have turned on one shot several times.
- WSU-Bradley could turn into a great MVC series in the future if the Braves accumulate more talent. The Braves are dramatically improved in coach Geno Ford’s second season and they are the rare team that can match WSU’s intensity. I see them finishing in the MVC’s upper half, although a thin bench could be an issue. We’ll know more about their staying power after trips to Indiana State and UNI.
- No. 22 Oklahoma State and No.. 24 Pitt went 0-2 last week. That could help WSU move into the Associated Press top 25. It will need to pass six teams, so it won’t be easy. With a 14-1 record, it will be increasingly hard for voters to ignore the Shockers. Five road wins is also impressive.
- Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson called his team part of the 6-foot-and-under league recently. The Salukis (7-7, 0-3) rank last in the MVC in shooting defense (allowing 51 percent) and eight in three-point defense (46.7 percent).
Next up: vs. Southern Illinois, 7 p.m. Wednesday (Cox 22)