Many words and phrases have been used to describe the Bradley men’s basketball team this year: tough, hard-working, high energy.
Winning is not one of those words.
Despite freshman forward Luuk van Bree sitting out due to a strained achilles tendon, the Braves hung close with the Salukis of Southern Illinois. However, defensive breakdowns led to a 71-59 loss in Carbondale Wednesday.
Once again, Bradley was plagued by turnovers. After giving the ball away 28 times in their matchup earlier in the year, the Braves managed to turn the ball over 23 times against an aggressive Saluki defense.
“Overall, it comes down to turnovers,” head coach Brian Wardle said. “They gamble. They shoot gaps. They are very high-risk, high-reward defense, and we’re not the best decision-making team when it comes to passing it offensively, and I think everyone knows that, and it seems to effect us in a game like this.”
When the Braves didn’t turn the ball over, they found ways to put the ball through the twine. Bradley shot 42 percent from the floor and went 72 percent from the line, a vast improvement from their season averages.
“I thought we did a good job in the first half of getting into the paint and getting post touches,” Wardle said. “We posted up our guards three or four times against [Anthony] Beane and [Mike] Rodriguez. I thought that whole strategy was working.”
According to Wardle, however, it doesn’t matter how well the Braves shoot if they can’t put together a full 40-minute game.
“It comes down to, again, like we’ve been saying all year, the 5-10 minute segments of just mental breakdowns and decision-making on offense and mental breakdowns on defense,” Wardle said.
One of the biggest breakdowns on the defensive end was with the same Saluki offensive play that crippled the Braves in their last meeting.
“They killed us with one play, a post-iso play that we went over [in practice],” Wardle said. “We obviously didn’t go over it well enough, because we did go over it 15-20 times.”
The Braves received their 24th loss of the season, but there is certainly some reason for optimism. Wardle said he thought the team came out with great energy, and there were multiple individuals who had standout games.
“I thought Joel [Okafor] had one of his best games of the year in just playmaking, going into halftime with five assists and just one turnover,” Wardle said. “[Freshman guard Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye] had some turnovers but he’s a competitor. He’s tough. He’s physical the whole game. He bangs. He competes. I wish everyone competed as hard as he does.”
Among the standouts were sophomore Donte Thomas, who led the team with 17 points along with six boards, and Okafor, who dished out six assists in 27 minutes off the bench.
In the end, Wardle’s message to his team is that no matter what has happened in the past, the only thing that matters is today.
“I tell them past failures do not determine future failures,” Wardle said. “So, no matter what we did in the past does not have to determine what we do these next two weeks, just like past successes don’t determine future successes. It’s what you do today that determines future success.”
The Braves will look for that success tomorrow against Drake, where the men will possibly be favored against the last place team in the conference. Bradley will have preparations to do befor its 1,000th game in Carver Arena.
“It’s a big game, we got to get some guys healthy,” Wardle said. “We’re pretty banged up. We’re doing everything we can to keep them healthy so we can come out and play our best home game of the year.”