Greetings from the great city of DeKalb, Ill. It’s two hours before game time and we are in the media center at the Convocation Center gearing up for tonight’s contest between Bradley (4-2) and Northern Illinois (1-4).
Tonight is a big night. Not only because I’m back in DeKalb, where I grew up and went to school, but because I believe this could be a big make-or-break night for our boys in red and white. Bradley has to still be riding high from last week’s upset of No. 20 Illinois, but they better be ready for a game tonight.
Don’t let NIU’s 1-4 record fool you. These guys have played a few tough games, suffering losses to Northwestern (55-77) and Illinois (61-80), but they have averaged similar numbers to the Braves this year, scoring 62.0 points per game and allowing 67.2, compared to Bradley’s 65 and 64.5. Furthermore, “The Sporting News” penned NIU as it’s preseason choice for first place in the West Division of the Mid-American Conference.
Although the game is a classic setup for a letdown after the high-running emotions of last weekend (especially since whispers of at-large tournament bids are already circulating), I think Bradley’s been warned enough about keeping their eyes on the game at hand. My prediction: Bradley 70, NIU 61.
But for now, it’s time to do some exploring of the Convocation Center and decide what to use my meal ticket on. I’m feeling nachos.
This just in: Alex Mayster, former Scout sports editor, has offered his prediction for the night…
“I’ll go Bradley 67, NIU 55…another big game from Will Egolf but Chris Roberts has his first big game of the season, leading all scorers with 23 points. (Matching his jersey number).”
I guess we’ll see.
Twenty minutes to tip-off and I’m hoping fans will use those minutes to well…show up. There are a lot of empty red seats at the Convocation Center, however, one bit of encouragement came in the fact that the visiting Braves received a nice welcome upon their arrival on the court – a sign that we may have a very Bradley-sympathetic crowd, as predicted.
The leading scorers coming into the game for Bradley are sophomore Taylor Brown (17.0) and junior Andrew Warren (12.3), with senior Chris Roberts lurking just behind at 11.2 ppg. After a pair of big plays to close out the last two games for BU, Warren seems to really be hitting his stride and I think it’s only a matter of time before he has a breakout game.
The Huskies are led by Darion “Jake” Anderson, who is averaging 11.8 ppg and just under nine boards.
Time for starting lineups, which are as follows: For BU: Brown, junior Sam Maniscalco, Warren, Roberts and sophomore Will Egolf. As expected, Maniscalco, a St. Patrick’s High School graduate (in Chicago) has a nice cheering section behind Bradley’s 1st-half basket.
The Huskies will start out with Anderson, freshman Tony Nixon, sophomore Bryan Hall, sophomore Lee Fisher and junior Sean Kowal.
Egolf wins the tip and we’re away. Maniscalco slashes to the basket for BU’s opening points, but Kowal answers on the other end with some points in the paint of his own. Baseline jumper by Egolf and Fisher answers. 4-4 to start.
Bradley is called for its second traveling call of the night, as Maniscalco takes a step too many. It’s still 4-4 at the 15:48 media timeout.
Chris, an NIU student, just bricked six free throws in a row in the Chipotle shootout. The Huskies are going to have to shoot a much better percentage than that to have a chance.
Mike DiNunno gets a few generous bounces off the NIU rim to put the Huskies up three (7-4). Sophomore Eddren McCain and freshman Dyricus Simms-Edwards have entered the game for BU. After missing his first three attempts from 3-point land, Warren connects from the right wing to tie the game up at 7 with 12 minutes remaining.
We are almost halfway through the first half and here’s how things are shaping up:
NIU is shooting 30.8 percent (4-13) from the field in the early going, while BU has only hit 27.3 percent (3-11).
We’re all tied at 9 after Egolf was able to tap in a DSE miss. Egolf picks up his second foul of the night on the other end and is replaced by Anthony Thompson.
DiNunnio hits a quick-fire jumper to put NIU up 13-11 and DSE takes a layup coast-to-coast to knot things back up. In comes the 6th-year senior from Ozark, Mo. – Sam Singh.
With Roberts in his face, DiNunno again shows off his quick release, hitting a shot-clock beating 3 from the top of the key. At the 6:32 media timeout, NIU leads 16-13 with DiNunno leading all scorers with nine points.
If Warren is going to hit his stride tonight, he isn’t showing it. The junior from Indiana is 1-of-5 from the field with a lone 3-pointer.
Singh misses a pair of free throws, but cleans up a TB miss for his first points of the night. Bradley regains the lead on a steal and dunk by Brown. With 1:28 to play in a first half that’s been dominated by poor shooting, it’s BU 19, NIU 18.
Maniscalco turns the ball over but DiNunno is unable to hit another buzzer beater. NIU takes the lead into the break, 20-19.
A few noteables at the break:
Bradley is just 9-of-25 from the field, while the Huskies are 9-of-27, only hitting 1-of-11 3-point attempts. Both teams have pulled down 17 rebounds, scored 10 in the paint and committed seven turnovers. DiNunno’s nine points lead all scorers, while BU is being paced by TB and Egolf, who each have…four.
I covered the Pekin High School girls’ game last night and the halftime score was much more impressive.
We aren’t 19 seconds into the second half and Egolf has picked up his third foul and will be replaced by Thompson.
Warren hits a nice runner in the lane, but Hall answers right back with one of his own. Bradley stretches out to its largest lead of the night (31-25) after a Roberts 3-pointer and a TB slash to the hoop. Warren keeps piling it on with a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Roberts gets a steal and is fouled on a layup attempt at the other end.
It will be interesting to see if BU can keep its foot on the gas pedal tonight or if they see the lead slip away like it has in a few of this season’s contests.
With 15:25 left to play, it’s Bradley by nine, 34-25. A pair of CR free throws upcoming…
DSE with a nice up-and-under, but Anderson hits a pair of free throws on the other end to bring cut the BU lead back to nine.
McCain turns the ball over after a few sloppy minutes and will be replaced by Maniscalco after the 11:51 media timeout. Eddren has three turnovers in only 10 minutes on the floor tonight.
Sammy makes an instant difference, driving the baseline and hitting a reverse layup to put BU up 10 (40-30). He has seven on the night.
Egolf and his three fouls come back in to replace Warren.
Nixon hits a runner to bring the Huskies back within six, but TB hits a 3-pointer to answer. He’s got 11 to lead all scorers.
Make that 13 as Taylor makes good on a pass from Chris Roberts who nabbed a steal at the other end. A DSE miss from 3 and a DSE board on the other end. Will Egolf is tied up under the BU basket and a jump ball call marks the 7:46 timeout.
I’m starting to like my “Bradley by nine” prediction more and more. It’s BU 45, NIU 35 and the Huskies will have the ball coming out.
AW hits a 3-pointer and converts a 3-point play to put Bradley up 14 at the 3:33 timeout. He takes over the Bradley scoring lead with a big one-handed slam, which is followed by an intentional NIU foul after a Roberts steal. His basket counts, but he misses both of the ensuing free throws. Bradley has stretched out to a 20-point lead, 61-41, and the NIU fans have begun to head for the exits.
Anderson hits a pair of freethrows and takes a layup coast-to-coast to cut the lead to 16. DSE is fouled on a baseline jumper and he misses both free throws.
Anderson misses a 3-point play opportunity after being fouled on a layup.
A Bradley rebound is tipped out to Thompson, who finishes with a big two-handed slam. As the buzzer sounds, it’s Bradley 63, NIU 49.
Off to the press conference. More to come…
Final thoughts (Like Jerry Springer)…
Coach Les said in the press conference after the game that Chris Roberts finished with 10 deflections (which went along nicely with his five second-half steals). What a huge statement for Chris, especially after he did such a great job guarding Illinois’ Demetri McCamey on Saturday. Having a tough-nosed player like this is something that can turn around a game and make a remarkable difference over the course of the season.
Final numbers and leaders:
BU: Bradley shot 68 percent from the field in the second half on the way to putting up 44 points (compared to 19 in the first half). Likewise, Andrew Warren, who was 1-of-6 in the first half, hit 5-of-6 in the second frame to finish with 16 points and lead BU. Other double digit scorers included Taylor Brown (15) and Roberts (11).
NIU: Anderson broke out in the second half to finish with 18 points, while DiNunno was held silent in the final 20 minutes, finishing with his first-half nine.
The Huskies won the rebounding battle 33-32, while both teams committed 15 turnovers.
Next up for Bradley, it’s Western Carolina, who, at 5-1, will be another good test for the Braves. That game tips off Mon. Dec. 7 at 7:05. I’ll talk to you then!
– D.J. Piehowski