Tekele Cotton has become a lethal injection for an opponent’s scoring average. On Tuesday, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall instructed Cotton to sink his venom into Bradley’s Walt Lemon, Jr.
That was not necessarily an easy task. Lemon, Jr. averaged 17.1 points per game heading into the showdown in Koch Arena, good for fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference this season. He has also had time to refine his trade – Lemon, Jr. is the active career leading scorer in the MVC.
Lemon, Jr.’s line versus Wichita State will likely not go down on his list of favorite games. He scored 12 points, but did so on 5-of-14 shooting from the field. He only could contribute one assist, and turned the ball over three times.
Cotton executing the defensive part of the game plan was overwhelming enough for Bradley, which was handed a 72-50 drubbing.
“Sometimes you forget about Tekele,” Marshall said, noting Cotton’s offensive output ended with four points. “I think he’s one of the best guards around. That’s why he drew Walt Lemon.”
Cotton had assistance. For small spurts, Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker drew assignments on Lemon, Jr. to give Cotton a breather.
“He’s putting up crazy numbers in the Valley,” VanVleet said. “I don’t know if you can necessarily stop him."
“We wanted to get five guys guarding him.”
There lays the other critical factor. Bradley rarely was able to let Lemon, Jr. finish a pick and roll. His best and only real opportunity to do so ended with two foul shots. The caving defense routinely forced Bradley into isolation plays that Wichita State’s help defense devoured.
WSU let Cotton concentrate on defense with an efficient offense. VanVleet, statistically the No. 3 scorer for the Shockers, carved Bradley’s defense for a career-high 22 points. He had 14 as WSU took a 40-23 lead into halftime.
“VanVleet is the best point guard in the league,” said Bradley coach Geno Ford.
Wichita State also outmuscled the Braves, grabbing 10 more rebounds, five more blocks and forcing four more turnovers.
“The only thing we cared about was answering the physicality. That didn’t happen,” Ford said. “Your normal physicalness is not good enough against these guys.”
The Shockers bench also showed some sizzle. Darius Carter chipped in 11 points, and Derail Green – who had scored nine points the entire season – poured in eight, including back-to-back 3-pointers near the end of the first half to stretch the lead to 20.
Eleven players saw action for Wichita State, and each one played at least eight minutes.
“We’re trying to lengthen our bench,” Marshall said. “Add horses to be able to help get us across the field.”
Wichita State now looks ahead to a first-place showdown with Indiana State (13-3, 4-0) at Koch Arena on Saturday. The Sycamores host Missouri State on Wednesday.
The Shockers (18-0, 5-0), ranked No. 5 in the country, are one of three unbeaten teams remaining in NCAA Division I.