Men’s basketball falls in final game: Thomas shines despite loss on Senior Day

The Bradley men’s basketball team dropped their final regular season game against Indiana State last Saturday, ending this season with a 13-2 home record, their most home wins since the 2012-2013 season.

The Sycamores came out strong and led 15-8 with 13:42 left in the first half, but the Braves were able to close the gap and even take the lead in the first half. Still, the Braves trailed 34-31 at the half.

Bradley struggled with foul trouble in the first half, but head coach Brian Wardle said his team handled it well.

“I was proud of our resilience in the first half to keep it within three for the foul trouble we were in,” Wardle said.

The second half remained close, as neither team led by more than six points. With only six and a half minutes remaining, Bradley was in a tough place as the Sycamores were on top 57-51.

Senior forward Donte Thomas scored a three-pointer, and junior guard Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye followed with two free throws. The Braves tied the game at 60, but Indiana State came back every time with a response to take back the lead.

“Every time we were going on a run, they’d attack us,” Wardle said. “We just didn’t ever get on a big run.”

Down 66-64 with five seconds remaining in the game, the Braves had an inbound play from midcourt. The Braves threw a lob to freshman forward Elijah Childs, who then passed the ball to sophomore guard Nate Kennell for a three-point shot.

Unfortunately for the Braves, Kennell slipped, fell and lost the ball. Childs came up with the ball but did not have time to get a quality shot, and the Braves lost 66-64. Wardle said the play was executed how he drew it despite Kennell falling.

“He was wide open, [but] he just slipped,” Wardle said. “We were going for the win at home.”

Indiana State dominated Bradley in their rebounding as the Sycamores pulled down 17 offensive rebounds to Bradley’s seven.

“I think we didn’t finish,” Lautier-Ogunleye said. “We would play great defense for a whole possession but wouldn’t come down with the rebound.”

Despite the loss, Wardle said he was happy with the way his team battled throughout the game.

“The effort was there,” Wardle said. “We scratched, we clawed. We kept it close, but Indiana State made the big plays.”

Wardle also said his team was unable to get comfortable in the game, which caused problems coming out of the gate.

“We couldn’t find any rhythm offensively,” Wardle said. “We could never get going and get the gym rocking.”

With four players finishing with three or more fouls, Wardle said fouls affected the team’s ability to get runs going.

“Anytime someone got hot, they had to come to the bench for foul trouble,” Wardle said.

Adding to that foul trouble, the Braves lost freshman guard Darrell Brown to an ankle injury with just over nine minutes remaining. Brown remained on the bench the rest of the game, though X-rays have come back negative, according to Wardle.

“He has a lateral ankle sprain,” Wardle said on a MVC teleconference Monday. “We’re not planning on him playing [for today]. We are just taking it day by day.”

The Braves relied on their lone senior, Thomas, to keep them in the game, who scored a career-high 24 points and eight rebounds. Lautier-Ogunleye said the team wanted to win for Thomas.

“Donte’s our guy and our brother,” Lautier-Ogunleye said. “He is our heart and soul. It sucks we were not able to do it for him today, but I know everyone in [the locker room] wanted it for him.”

Lautier-Ogunleye said he is proud of the way Thomas has grown as a player in his four years on the Hilltop.

“He has grown so much, and the man and player he has become is just lightyears ahead,” Lautier-Ogunleye said. “He is one of the best players in the Valley.”

The Braves will now face Drake in the MVC Tournament. Drake is the only team in the Valley to have beaten Bradley in both of their games this season, but Lautier-Ogunleye said that won’t matter tonight.

“Yeah, they have beaten us twice, but they aren’t going to do it again,” Lautier-Ogunleye said.

Bradley and Drake will go head-to-head today at 2:30 p.m. in St. Louis.

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