ST LOUIS – The men’s basketball team defeated Southern Illinois 67-55 Friday afternoon, winning a dogfight with the Salukis to reach the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament semifinals.
Bradley used its defense and athleticism to hold SIU in check, and leaned on its bench and post play to push the Salukis over the edge
Senior Sam Singh, who went 4-for-4 scoring eight points off the bench, said his team was aware of Southern’s tough defense.
“I think they were really getting out and pressuring our guards,” he said. “That allowed the bigs, including myself, to work inside.”
Bradley also bested the Salukis in bench points, getting 17 points from its substitutes.
Junior Chris Roberts, who finished with six points and seven rebounds off the bench, said the game was physicaly intense.
“We did a really good job of taking care of the game,” he said. “We did a good job on defense. We took care of the ball and protected it.”
The Braves were forced to lockdown defensively after finding themselves down 17-9 midway through the first half.
Bradley started clicking following its eight-point deficit, rallying to go on a 25-8 run to take a nine point lead into the half.
“I’m really proud of the team effort,” Bradley coach Jim Les said. “And the fact that early on when we struggled there was great toughness to fight through that period.”
Freshman Eddren McCain said the atmosphere could have caused his team’s slow start.
“After about the first 8 minutes, we started picking it up,” he said. “We started getting more comfortable.”
The Braves came out strong after the break, extending their lead to as many as 15 points.
The Salukis battled back to within seven points, but were never able to retake the lead.
Sophomore Sam Maniscalco knocked down eight free throws in the final 2 minutes, as Bradley went 10-for-10 from the charity stripe down the stretch to win the game.
“We started out the game with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and we played extremely hard,” coach Chris Lowery of Southern Illinois said. “And I thought once we got into foul trouble, we kind of changed our demeanor and we started to get more passive defensively.”
Maniscalco led the Braves in scoring with 21 points, but the key to the game may have been two SIU players who didn’t score.
MVC Freshman of the Year Kevin Dillard was held scoreless for the first time in his collegiate career.
The guard, who averages 12.6 points per game, played the entire 40-minute game but couldn’t connect on any of his four attempts.
MVC Defensive Player of the Year Bryan Mullins missed his ninth straight game with a stress fracture in his right foot.
Bradley will resume play at 1:35 p.m. tomorrow when the Braves square off against top-seeded Northern Iowa.
The Panthers won both of the regular season series, winning the two games by a combined eight points.