Happy New Year, Bradley fans.
We’re about a half-hour from the tip-off of what is sure to be a very telling game for the Braves, who welcome to town the Salukis of Southern Illinois.
After a ghastly three-game skid that included two give-up-the-lead losses at home, the Braves responded with a 67-59 win at last week’s Valley opener at Drake. After that losing streak climaxed with a putrid loss at Iowa State, Coach Les reportedly put the boys through a hellish week of practices that included two-a-days and banning the players from wearing Bradley gear. While the win at Drake was a good start, tonight’s contest with the 8-2 Salukis will be the real indicator of where this team stands.
Andrew Warren appeared to be back in form last week, dropping 24 points on the Bulldogs. Similarly, Taylor Brown responded well from a near-silent game at Ames, putting up a double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds) at Drake.
The Salukis are led by sophomore standout Kevin Dillard (14.9 ppg) and senior Tony Freeman (12.7).
Tonight marks the 14th time the Braves have played on New Year’s Day (they hold a 9-4 record on National Hangover Day.) Today also marks the first day of employment for the new Bradley Athletic Director Michael Cross.
Although the Salukis have won 15 of the last 20 meeetings between these two teams, Bradley took two-of-three last year, including a convincing win in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
One notable memory from that game was watching the dominating defense of Eddren McCain, who held Dillard scoreless in the 67-55 Bradley win. With Edge’s limited playing time over the last few games, it will be interesting to see what his role is tonight.
Starters are announced: Dillard, Freeman, Carlton Fay, Nick Evans and Justin Bocot will start things off for Coach Lowery, while it will be the usuals for BU – Brown, Warren, Chris Roberts, Will Egolf and Sam Maniscalco. The starters gave Bradley nearly all of its production at Drake, with the bench scoring only three points. It’s always nice to get the win, but a little help from the reserves would make things a lot more comfortable, especially against a team that leads the Valley in scoring at 75.4 points.
Egolf wins the tip and TB gets the Braves rolling with a jumper from the charity stripe. Carlton Fay puts the Bradley fans back in their seats with a 3-ball at the other end.
Roberts with a steal and a dunk, but Bloomington native Justin Bocott answers back with a jumper.
Sam Singh and McCain already into the game, replacing Will and Maniscalco
At the 15:06 timeout, it’s all tied up at 10.
AW with a nice slash to the basket to put the Braves up two and McCain hustles down a long board on the other end, leading to a Warren jumper from the corner.
And now, my first chance to see formerly redshirted freshman Jake Eastman in action after I was unable to watch the last two games. From what I’m told, look for intense hustle and sharpshooting.
At the 11:54 timeout, Bradley leads it 16-15 as Warren and TB have each racked up six points.
Brown drops a contested 3-ball and his second pair of free throws to give Bradley their largest lead (21-15). TB draws yet another foul, this one on Anthony Booker, and hits both freebies to give him 13 points.
Peoria native Ryan Phillips into the game for the Braves and he picks up a foul before the ball is inbounded. Fay ends a 7-0 Bradley run with a layup and Eastman misses his only shot attempt before being replaced by Maniscalco.
Egolf cleans up a Maniscalco miss and is fouled on the shot. He misses the free throw, but Dillard is able to convert a 3-point play of his own on the other end to bring it to 25-20.
Warren hits another jumper and after a Phillips rebound hits a threebie and draws a foul, dropping the free throw for the four-point play.
Fay hits a miraculous layup in between three Salukis and much to the dismay of the SIU fans in attendance, doesn’t draw a foul.
At the 7:20 timeout, it’s Bradley 31, Southern 22. You can feel the crowd on the edge of their seats waiting for a shot attempt from Phillips, who graduated from Peoria Notre Dame. Phillips has clocked only three minutes this season, so a three ball from him might even top the excitement of Warren’s 4-point play.
Brown is back at the line and he stays perfect from there, adding two more freebies. After an unpopular foul was called on Singh, Fay hits another 3-pointer and a layup to bring SIU back within four.
Eastman travels, but Roberts stops the bleeding with a 3-pointer from the corner. Warren, Egolf and Phillips head back into the game and Phillips picks up another foul before the ball is inbounded.
Maniscalco drives into Fay under the basket and hits a layup, giving Fay his second foul in the process. Another Bradley free throw puts the Braves up 10 with just over four minutes to play.
Phillips picks up his third foul and sends Booker to the line to complete a 3-point play.
On a side note, it’s great to see Bradley knocking down some free throws tonight, as they did at Drake. That is a stat that has caused more than one meltdown this year and I’ve got to believe that was a focus of Les’ campaign at practice this week.
With 3:31 to play in the half, it’s Bradley 41, SIU 32.
A Warren layup and Will Egolf steal-and-slam causes a quick timeout from Lowery.
Even Singh is getting into the mix, swishing a jumper from the top of the arc, prompting PA announcer Paul Herzog to exclaim, “Sam Singh for two! Everybody makes one!”
Evans with a nice block on Egolf and Freeman hits a long jumper to bring it to 47-34.
Warren is again fouled on a three pointer, but this time he misses and will have to earn them the long way. He makes 2-of-3.
At the break, it’s Bradley by 13 (49-36). Great ball movement and nice defense from the Braves. Heck, even a nice crowd tonight.
Bradley ties it’s single-half record with 49 points, but the difference is that last time it was the second half against Iowa State and it was long-after the ugly game was decided. It’s much more optimistic to take that lead into the break.
However… we have certainly (recently) seen the Braves take double-digit leads into halftime before. Anything’s possible, folks.
Warren leads all scorers with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, but TB is hot on his heels with 15 (3-of-5). Taylor has led the Bradley attack from the free throw line, hitting 8-of-8, as the Braves are on pace to top the 80-percent mark for the second game in a row (12-of-14 thus far). Fay leads SIU with 12.
Something to note: No minutes for either Anthony Thompson or freshman Milos Knezevic, two fairly prominent reserves. I’ll try to find out more about that later.
A quick 5-0 run by Southern in the first 35 seconds of the half, but TB pushes the Braves over the 50 mark with a layup.
Freeman hits his second 3 of the young half as the Dogs pull within seven. Fay picks up his third foul and heads back to the bench.
A pair of offensive rebounds lead to a short jumper from Taylor Brown, who takes the scoring lead at 19. At the 15:26 break, Bradley leads by a dime, 57-47.
Side note: I’m sitting in front of someone who didn’t like the last Bradley foul call and repeatedly yelled, “That’s a bad call” to the referees. Remember when hecklers used to say things that were clever or witty. While extremely to-the-point, that just seems pretty lazy.
TB drops two more free throws out of the timeout and Bocott answers with a beautiful baseline drive and hanging layup.
Manisalco picks up his second foul and is replaced by McCain.
Props to a small group of SIU fans in section eight. Although they are only about three guys strong, they have banded together to make a good deal of noise tonight.
Dillard hits a layup and caps off a 3-point play after both No. 23s, Roberts and Bocott are called for technical fouls. Eastman hits Singh inside with a nice look, but the perpetual senior can’t convert.
Freeman drops another 3-ball and brings the Salukis back within three. Hmm…double-digit lead at the break, playing at home, and it’s gone midway through the second half. We’ve played this game before, guys.
Les takes timeout with 12:32 to play.
Evans picks up his third foul and send AW to the line, where he drops both to give him 20 points on the night.
McCain pushes hard after an SIU miss and he tries to hit Brown in-step on the break, but TB is forced to save it to a wide open Jake Eastman under the bucket, who kicks in his first two points of the night. At the 11:25 media timeout, Bradley is back up seven, 63-56.
Eastman is called for a charge, which will put SIU in the bonus for the remainder of the game. Fay walks and the Braves capitalize as Warren draws a foul on the other end after a McCain offensive board. Warren hits ’em both and Fay leaves the game with his fourth foul.
Eastman appears to have tipped in a heads-up putback, but is whistled for an over-the-back, resulting in a pair of Bocott free throws.
Brown answers with a drive and score and the Salukis throw it away again. Roberts can’t convert a slash to the basket and Bocott knocks down a 3 on the other end.
After what looked more like a 10-second rugby game, the Braves grab possession and call timeout, leading 67-61 with 7:25 to play.
A new addition to the Bradley cheerleading routine… One half of the stadium shouts “B” and the other answers with “U.” There were some confused faces to start, but I think people got the hang of it.
Roberts splits a pair out of the 7:23 break and Dillard misses a 3 on the maroon end. TB grabs his 24th and 25th points with a jumper and Egolf picks up his third foul.
Dillard with a steal, but he can’t convert a layup to finish, luckily Freeman can to pull SIU within five. Chris Roberts responds with a basket on the other end.
Dillard can flat out fly. He races down the court and draws a foul…one of two from the line. Egolf splits a pair of his own on the BU end.
Fay is back in for the Salukis as Freeman knocks down a pair to make it a five-point game.
Brown draws an offensive foul, but is tagged with one of his own on a drive to the bucket. It’s his fourth.
With 3:45 to play it’s BU 75, SIU 68. Some of the Bradley fans are making their way to the exits.
Dillard misses a close one, but Booker cleans it up. Freeman picks up his third foul and Warren hits a pair from the line. I don’t know when the last time was in this game that we played 30 seconds without a whistle.
Dillard responds with a layup. Egolf with a hoop underneath. Great, and I mean great, execution on the part of the Braves right there. Bradley ran a nice stahl, with Maniscalco eventually finding Egolf under the bucket for a wide open layup. That’s the way it was drawn up.
SIU takes a full timeout with 1:40 to play, trailing 79-72.
The Dogs aren’t done yet. Dillard drops a 3-ball to make it a four-point game with 1:26 remaining. Southern takes another timeout after the make. Each team has 2 remaining.
Dillard steals the BU inbounds pass, resulting in an Egolf foul of John Freeman, who hits both free throws and forces a Maniscalco travel on the next possesion. Not a lot of smiles here at Carver as Bradley leads by only a pair with a long 1:05 to play. Here it comes….
Fay fakes Roberts into the air and draws the foul, hits both free throws and ties the game.
Allow me to reiterate a sentence from my halftime post: However… we have certainly (recently) seen the Braves take double-digit leads into halftime before. Anything’s possible, folks.
I was half joking, but here we are.
A bad exchange between Egolf and Warren leads to an extremely poorly timed turnover and the Salukis call their final timeout with 36.2 to play.
Tony Freeman drops an uncontested 3-pointer from the corner to put the Salukis up 82-79. Can’t make this up, unless you’ve watched Bradley’s last three home games.
Maniscalco drives to the basket for two and fouls Bocott on the inbound with 12 seconds left. He hits them both and Maniscalco misses Bradley’s last chance on the other end.
And now, a sound that I haven’t heard before at Carver… the treacherous “boo.” The fans walking by me to leave the arena are not thrilled with Coach Les.
Final score: 86-81. Should be an interesting press conference.