After an undefeated preseason, the Bradley men’s basketball team took the floor at Carver Arena last Saturday, for its first meaningful game of the year. The Braves kept their winning ways going, taking down Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis 68-53 in the season opener.
Bradley struggled to pull away early, as the Jaguars switching between man and zone stifled the Braves’ offense. That proved to be true until sophomore guard Nate Kennell checked into the game with 16:30 left in the first half.
Kennell sparked a 13-0 run, pouring in a quick nine points on three straight 3-pointers, to give Bradley a 17-5 lead they would hold for the remainder of the game.
“I was just taking what the defense gave me,” Kennell said. “I have to give credit to players hitting me when I was open. We’re going to have different guys step up every game; I guess tonight was just one of mine.”
In the second half, IUPUI cut Bradley’s lead to five. The Braves were once again bailed out by Kennell’s hot hand, who put up eight points in a five-minute stretch, and sealed the victory for Bradley.
Kennell finished with a career-best 19 points to pace the Braves. Senior Donte Thomas also chipped in 15 points along with eight rebounds and four assists, while sophomore guard Darrell Brown added 10 points and four assists.
According to Kennell, he does not have a preference between coming off the bench or starting for the Braves and has been productive in both roles. Head coach Brian Wardle said Kennell is just looking to make a positive impact any way he can.
“I don’t think it matters to him; he’s just a hooper,” Wardle said. “It was great to see him come in and give us some punch off the bench.”
While the offense hit some rough stretches, such as the final 7:10 of the first half in which the Braves did not score, Bradley remained consistent defensively throughout the game.
“It was a great step for us. We didn’t let our offensive struggles affect how we defended and how we competed on the other end,” Wardle said. “That was nice to see the first game of the year. We had that drought in the first half, but we still strung together six stops in a row.”
The Braves also returned to Carver Arena Tuesday, facing off against the University of Delaware. A strong defensive effort and 15 points from junior Luuk van Bree propelled the Braves to a win. The 2-0 start is Bradley’s first since the 2013-14 season.
Wardle said he was pleased with how his team came away with a victory in the physical matchup.
“I’m proud of our guys for pulling out a win like this,” Wardle said. “It was a grind-it-out game, and it’s good to get one of those early in the season.”
Thomas grabbed 10 rebounds and sophomore Koch Bar collected six to help the Braves dominate second-chance points by a 22-8 margin.
Van Bree, who missed the second half of Bradley’s season opener after he strained his foot, said it felt good to get back on the floor.
“I just wanted to get out there and play hard, and I was able to do that,” van Bree said. “My teammates found me in some good places to hit some shots and I was able to knock them down.”
According to van Bree, this year, the team is ready to compete, and team chemistry is at an all-time high.
“I think we’re a lot farther ahead of where we’ve been all the years I’ve been here, especially chemistry-wise,” van Bree said. “That just helps us so much because as long as we’re playing together, we’re always going to be in position to win.”
The Braves tip off the their first of three games in Islands of the Bahamas Showcase at 10 a.m. today against the University of Vermont.
Thomas said he’s excited about the team’s hot start and hopes to continue their solid play in the Bahamas.
“We’re off to a great start, and it feels good,” Thomas said “Hopefully, we can push this through to the Bahamas trip and come back with a championship.”