When you have one of the youngest teams in the country, ups and downs throughout the long, grinding season are inevitable. For Bradley men’s basketball, the season-opening win against Ball State was an up. Everything since has been a down.
The Braves have had some tough matchups to start the year, which justifies their 1-5 start. But as the game experience starts to feel somewhat regular for this young roster, you start to expect a slight improvement from game to game. The Braves had a chance to show improvement with a pair of non-conference games this week, but they weren’t exactly up to the task.
Bradley hosted Ole Miss on Saturday for the non-conference game at Carver Arena. Coming off a poor shooting performance against New Orleans where Bradley only shot 32 percent from the field, the Braves started off hot. The Braves hit 10 of their first 14 shots, helping them to a 20-12 lead halfway through the first quarter, backed by nine points from sophomore Donte Thomas, who finished with a career-high 22 points.
But then things went downhill.
The Braves got cold and the Rebels got hot to close out the first half. After squandering their lead with two turnovers and missed shots, Bradley found themselves down 33-29 at halftime. The Ole Miss momentum carried into the second half, as did as the Braves’ struggles. About halfway through the second half, the Rebels built their lead up to 20, at 54-34. Ole Miss went on to take the victory 67-54.
The shooting was pretty similar for both teams. Bradley shot 40.4 percent from the field and 6-19 (31.6 percent) from three while Ole Miss shot 40.7 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from three. The difference was in the turnovers. Bradley had 25 and Ole Miss had 18, but Ole Miss outscored Bradley 20-8 in points off turnovers, which was the main difference in the final score.
Bradley had a chance to redeem themselves Tuesday night, travelling to Delaware to take on the Blue Hens in another non-conference matchup. Once again, the Braves just couldn’t seem to find the bottom of the net.
Bradley came out with good energy again, as they have in the majority of their eight games, pulling out to an 11-8 advantage eight minutes into the game. But a subsequent 17-2 run by the Blue Hens decided the game early. The Braves never got it back within single digits, losing to the Blue Hens .
The Braves shot 16-57 (28.1 percent) from the field and 6-28 (21.4 percent) from three. Although they were able to cut their turnovers down to 14, the result of those turnovers were still deadly as Delaware held the 19-2 advantage in points off turnovers.
“There’s nothing to feel good about after a game like that,” head coach Brian Wardle said. “It’s gut-check time. It’s man in the mirror time. Embarrassing loss. Embarrassing performance. Not much else to be said.”
The loss brings the Braves to 1-7 overall. Early season losses against nationally-ranked teams such as Arizona and Virginia are acceptable, but Wardle said he expected a much better performance out of his players now, especially after a solid practices prior to the game.
“We have not been playing well,” Wardle said. “We have not been able to put together what we do day in and day out. We have not been playing consistently individually or as a group. Our focus wasn’t there.”
The Braves have a chance to snap their seven-game losing streak Saturday against North Dakota at Carver Arena.
“When you’re in a rut, you gotta work yourself out of it,” Wardle said. “That’s what we’re going to do.”