All talk of a Bradley NCAA Tournament bid came to a screeching halt Saturday after the Braves let a 20-point lead slip out of their hands, suffering an 84-81 overtime loss to Evansville.
The Purple Aces (14-18) became the lowest seed (No. 9) to ever advance to the title game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament after the win over Bradley, which came just one day after they knocked off No. 1 seed and heavy favorite Illinois State.
“We’re obviously very disappointed,” Bradley coach Paula Buscher said. “We didn’t rebound as well as we needed to in the second half and we had too many turnovers in the second half, but I’m still really proud of what this group has accomplished.”
Bradley sophomore Raisa Taylor had 24 points to lead all scorers and senior Monica Rogers added 20, but it wasn’t enough to hold off a second half charge by Evansville, who was led by senior Robyn Jennings’ 19 points.
In the first half, the Braves looked like they were on the way to putting things out of reach for the Purple Aces, as they were able to ride a 14-0 run on the way to mounting a 36-16 lead with 4:11 to play in the period.
Evansville worked the Bradley lead down to 40-23 by the break, but came out firing in the second half, rattling off the first eight points of the period and continuing to slowly chip away at the deficit.
“We stopped giving up layup after layup in that second half,” Evansville coach Misty Murphy said. “We also did a much better job containing in the half court and on the boards.”
The Purple Aces out-rebounded the Braves 32-19 in the second half and finished with 21 offensive rebounds. Evansville was also able to take advantage of Bradley’s miscues by scoring 32 points off BU’s 26 turnovers.
With 9.2 seconds to play in regulation, Evansville’s Jordan Lewis was able to knock down a 3-pointer to tie the game at 68 and eventually force overtime.
The Purple Aces hit 10-of-12 free throws in the extra period, five of which came from Stephanie Bamberger, on the way to locking down the game and advancing to Sunday’s championship match against Creighton.
“I think our nerves probably got to us to start the game, but our heart got to us at halftime,” Murphy said.
Despite the loss, Bradley recorded its best season in program history, notching 21 victories against 10 losses, and will wait to see about the possibility of gaining an at-large bid into the WNIT later this week.
“For whatever reason, tonight wasn’t the night we were going to get it done,” Buscher said. “But what we have accomplished this year and what this team has done has really brought the program a long way. And for that, I’m really proud of them.”