Playing for the first time since taking sole possession of first place in the Missouri Valley Conference, Wichita State looks to stay there while continuing its dominance at home.
That may not be too tall of a task against a Bradley team that has struggled to win league road games in recent seasons.The 20th-ranked Shockers will try to win their 20th straight home game on Saturday night when they take on the Braves, who have lost 22 of their last 24 conference games outside of Peoria.Wichita State (18-2, 7-1) moved out of a first-place tie with No. 17 Creighton on Wednesday when it won 62-52 at Missouri State and the Bluejays lost 74-69 at Drake.The Shockers won for the ninth time in 10 games and managed to avoid falling flat after a thrilling 67-64 victory over Creighton four days earlier."Since I've been here, we've been first or second in the Valley. We've always had winning teams," said senior guard Demetric Williams. "That's our expectation."Wichita State has won by average of 17.4 points during its home win streak -- tied for the sixth-longest in the nation -- including a 78-41 victory over Bradley in the second game of the streak last January.Cleanthony Early, the Shockers' scoring leader (15.5 per game), has played especially well lately. The junior forward has averaged 20.8 points on 55.4 percent shooting -- including 14 of 31 (45.2 percent) from 3-point range -- in his last six games.Early had 24 points and eight rebounds as Wichita State closed on a 10-2 run for a 69-63 win at Bradley on Jan. 6.After missing seven games with a broken thumb and scoring two points in his first game back, senior forward Carl Hall has sparked the club with 32 in his last two.Despite their victories, the Shockers have shot 37.6 percent from the field and 9 of 44 (22.0 percent) from beyond the arc in their last two games.Wichita State should be able to find some open looks against the Braves, who have allowed opponents to average 69.8 points while shooting 50.8 percent from the floor while losing four of six.Each of Bradley's last 12 conference road losses has been by at least eight points.The Braves (12-8, 4-4) have lost six in a row to the Shockers, including three straight in Wichita by an average of 23.0 points.Wichita State, though, will have to find a way to contain Walt Lemon Jr., who has scored 42 points while shooting 6 for 9 from 3-point range in his last two games.The junior guard scored a game-high 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting Wednesday at Evansville, but the rest of the Braves combined to hit 12 of 38 (31.6 percent) from the floor in a 66-56 loss.Bradley will likely need a more complete effort if it hopes to derail a Wichita State team that ranks first in the MVC in scoring defense (59.7) and defensive field-goal percentage (39.2)."There's going to be some physical play and there's going to be some holds and some grabs and some body-slamming in the Valley," Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said. "(Our guys) have to know that."