Junior Donte Thomas puts up a contested shot in a win earlier this year against Illinois-Springfield.
photo by Justin Limoges

Braves fend off Panthers

Junior Donte Thomas puts up a contested shot in a win earlier this year against Illinois-Springfield. photo by Justin Limoges

Junior Donte Thomas puts up a contested shot in a win earlier this year against Illinois-Springfield.
photo by Justin Limoges

The Bradley men’s basketball team came out on top of a back-and-forth game Tuesday night at Eastern Illinois, giving the team its first road win of the young season.

Eastern Illinois’s Demetrius McReynolds jump started the Panthers hot start, scoring a quick 10 points in the first seven minutes. However, the Braves found the answer in freshman center Koch Bar, who stymied the Eastern Illinois defense throughout the rest of the game, converting plenty of layups underneath the basket.

“That’s what the coaches want me to do,” Bar said. “Be ready, get my hands ready, because they’re going to dump the ball every time. We really have pretty good point guards that can see the floor. We’ve been working all summer on playing under the basket, trying to finish as much as I can, practicing a lot of pump fakes and finishing around the rim, so I guess that helped me feel more comfortable today.”

Bar recorded his first double-double of his career as he finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive boards.

“I thought we got [Bar] the right rest at the right times, and then we were able to play him down the stretch,” head coach Brian Wardle said. “He was very active. He was going to get rebounds, he was active on the offensive glass and just played really big for us.”

Bradley shot 60 percent from the floor in the first half and went to the locker room with a four-point advantage.

When the second half started, the Braves’ offense had a short cold-spell and Eastern Illinois was able to claw their way back into the game. However, Wardle said he was pleased with the way his team responded.

“We knew coming in here that it was going to be a war, and I’m just very proud of the resiliency my team showed, and my young guys – the maturity they showed in a big game,” Wardle said. “We talk about it a lot in practice, about responding, not reacting. Play with emotion, don’t let emotion play with you. This was a really good game for us in that area.”

With eight minutes remaining in the second half, Eastern Illinois center Muusa Dama cut backdoor for a rim-rattling alley-oop, which fired up the crowd and extended the Panthers lead to five. The momentum seemed to be headed in the Panthers’ direction, but Braves junior guard JoJo McGlaston had a different idea.

McGlaston got free for three layups in a row and put Bradley back into the game, cutting the lead to one with under three minutes to play.

“I noticed that they were over-helping on off-ball defense, and when I got in, I noticed I could cut to the basket, and my teammates did a great job of finding me, and I got some open layups,” McGlaston said.

With the game tied at 72 after a pair of free throws by freshman point guard Darrell Brown, the Panthers had one more chance to win the game, but the Braves forced the Panthers to heave a three pointer that clanked off the rim, and the game headed into overtime.

“Just digging deep and getting stops is most important in overtime,” McGlaston said. “Get stops, buckle down, box out, rebound every possession. We continue to fight. No matter what, we fight.”

In overtime, the Braves got out to a quick start, building a five point lead. Bradley was able to protect that lead at the free-throw line down the stretch, as they made 11 of 12 free-throws, sealing a victory.

“Defense and rebounding won us this game, even though there were a lot of points scored,” Wardle said. “If you want to win on the road, you’ve got to make free-throws, and we were able to do that in overtime. It comes down to making winning plays when it’s all said and done, and we were able to make just a few more.”

The players were also very pleased with their strong performance on the road.

“This win is huge because this team is pretty good at home, especially since we came back from Florida 1-2, so we needed to bounce back,” Bar said. “I think it opened our eyes to show that we’re capable of playing any team if we just keep playing the way we’re playing right now.”

Over the Thanksgiving break, the Braves played in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida, where they beat Wofford and lost to Hofstra and George Mason.

The highlight of the tournament for the Braves was Darrell Brown, who scored in double figures in each of the team’s three games and scored 34 points in a shootout against Hofstra, which is the most by a Bradley freshman in program history. Brown became the first Missouri Valley Conference freshman to score 30 points in a game since Creighton’s Doug McDermott in 2011.

The next game for the 4-3 Braves is 7 p.m. Saturday night at Carver Arena, where they will take on Nevada in the annual Missouri Valley-Mountain West Challenge.  

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