The men’s basketball team didn’t trail for a single second all season against the Drake Bulldogs. The Braves dominated from wire-to-wire in each of their 79-72 and 82-74 regular season wins.
Drake managed to take a lead early in the first round of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis. In fact, they led for the majority of the first half.
Ultimately, though, the result of the game was no different than the first two go-arounds. Bradley secured a 67-58 win to extend their season at least one more day.
“We started slow offensively,” head coach Brian Wardle said. “We kept battling defensively, the defense won us the game … [and] kept us really close, between one or two possessions when we went through the lull to start the game.”
Bradley’s sluggish start was highlighted by a grueling six-minute scoreless streak between the 17 and 11 minute marks. As Wardle said, the Braves’ stifling defense kept them alive, holding Drake to 33 percent shooting, including a dismal 4-22 from behind the arc.
The defensive battle made for an ugly game, but one Wardle said he expected and embraced.
“It was just kind of back and forth,” Wardle said. “We know each other so well now. You know what they’re running, you know their tendencies and they know ours. It was a grind-it-out game.”
Sophomore guard Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye and junior forward Donte Thomas were the Braves’ saving graces on offense. Both players picked up the scoring slack when their teammates couldn’t produce, each spurring equally important runs.
“I know I can bring the team some energy,” Lautier-Ogunleye, who finished with 11 points, said. “We were a bit – not down, but a bit sluggish … I was just trying to feed myself and the rest of the team.”
While Lautier-Ogunleye spurred a 15-2 run in the first half, Thomas made waves in the second half by scoring eight straight points early in the half and ultimately finished with 17 points and nine rebounds.
Thomas’ strong second half came despite requiring stitches after an elbow to the face early in the first half.
“I didn’t want to come out of the game to get stitches,” Thomas said. “I wanted to be there for my team, but they made me.”
The victory boosts Bradley’s winning streak to four games, the longest in Wardle’s tenure on the Hilltop. Lautier-Ogunleye said he hopes the team can carry this momentum into today’s bout with No. 21 Wichita State.
“We’re still hungry because we feel that we can do more,” Lautier-Ogunleye said. “[Thursday] was a scrappy game, but we’re going to keep clawing and fighting because that’s in our nature. We’re never going to back down.”
Bradley fell to Wichita State in both matchups earlier this season by scores of 100-66 and 64-49. It appears as though the Braves’ work is cut out for them.
“It’s going to be a great test for us, but I’m excited for our program,” Wardle said. “Our effort and energy in practice has been tremendous in February, and the competitiveness is going to continue to be there. So we’re going to get out there and throw it up and see what we’ve got.”
Bradley will play the No. 2 seeded Wichita State Shockers at 6 p.m. today at the Scottrade Center.