The Bradley basketball team is beginning to turn some heads as their 6-1 start to the season is the team’s best in 32 years. After finishing 2-1 in the Islands of the Bahamas Showcase, the Braves returned to Carver Arena on Nov. 22 to square off against Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Despite starting guards Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye and Jayden Hodgson both going down with ankle injuries within the first five minutes of the game, the Braves cruised past the Miners, 79-47.
Junior Luqman Lundy stepped up in place of Lautier-Ogunleye and Hodgson, giving Bradley a much needed spark on both sides of the ball. Lundy finished with 2 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks and 3 steals.
Head coach Brian Wardle said Lundy, who is in his first season with the Braves after transferring from Northern Oklahoma College-Tonkawa, adds to their depth – not only is Lundy another solid point guard, but he’s also a leader for the team.
“I’ve said all year we’re 14 strong, and tonight ‘L’ got the opportunity to play a lot,” Wardle said. “He’s a leader in the locker room, one of our more mature guys. We brought him in to give us more depth at the point. When he plays disciplined defensively, he can make a lot of things happen.”
The matchup with the Miners also proved to be a breakout game for freshman Elijah Childs. The 6’7” forward finished with 14 points and did not miss a shot, connecting on all seven of his attempts from the field.
Childs said he let the game come to him and did not try to force anything, which led to his successful night.
“When I get in, coach wants me to be active, have high energy, rebound and just get guys going,” Childs said. “I just did my job.”
After handling the Division II Miners squad with ease, Bradley faced their toughest challenge to date on Nov. 25 as Georgia Southern University came to town.
The Eagles entered the game averaging 83.5 points on 44 percent shooting, but a strong defensive effort from the Braves proved to be the difference maker.
Bradley held the Eagles to season lows in both points and field-goal percentage and narrowly pulled off the 62-57 victory.
The Braves’ stifling defense was bolstered by their 7’0” big man, sophomore Koch Bar. The center made a few key plays down the stretch, in addition to grabbing 14 rebounds and blocking two shots.
While the defense continued to surge against Georgia Southern, the Braves’ offensive struggles were more prevalent than ever. Bradley finished 19 for 36 from the free throw line and an abysmal 34 percent from the field.
Sophomore guard Darrell Brown, who led the Braves with 19 points, said he is confident the offense will eventually come around.
“The shots might not be falling one day, but as long as we lock up and play defense, we’ll be fine,” Brown said. “We’ve got a great shooting team and share the ball. So it’ll work itself out.”
The Braves defense has been historic through seven games this season as they have held every opponent under 70 points. The last Bradley squad to do that over their opening seven games occurred 70 years ago.
Currently, Bradley owns the ninth-best scoring defense in the nation as they have held opponents to 58.3 points a game.
After a five-day break, the Braves will be back in action tonight at 7 p.m. taking on in-state rival Eastern Illinois University at Carver Arena.