Just when it looked as if the Bradley men’s basketball team had a glimmer of confidence, all hope was lost. After defeating Drake 79-72 at home Saturday, the Braves failed to win back-to-back games for the first time this season in a loss to Indiana State, 56-54.
In Wednesday’s first half, the Braves were hot out of the gate as they jumped out to a 13-2 lead behind great shooting from a variety of players. Bradley was confident and stuck to their gameplan to stop Sycamore’s guard Brenton Scott and forward Matt Van Scyoc, entering the locker room with a 38-27 lead.
However, everything the Braves built fell apart in the second half.
“The first ten minutes of the second half was a poor team effort,” junior forward Donte Thomas said. “That’s been our story for most of our losses this season; not bouncing back in the second half and having the same energy. We often get comfortable [with leads] and that’s been our problem all season.”
The Braves shot a woeful 12.5 percent (3-24) in the second half and didn’t make a shot from the field until the 9:42 mark.
“We obviously just didn’t have a good second half at all,” head coach Brian Wardle said. “We definitely beat ourselves.”
Wardle said Indiana State’s defense got more physical in the second half, denying the ball and pressuring the Braves.
“We just played a little bit on our heels offensively [in the second half], where in the first half we were in attack mode, and the ball was moving, and we were driving,” Wardle said. “We were trying to create opportunities for [our players] to drive and create for each other, but we weren’t aggressive enough.”
On Saturday, the Braves earned their fourth conference win over the Drake Bulldogs.
Bradley again got off to a fast start as their offense was firing on all cylinders. Thomas scored the first nine points of the game for the Braves, which were followed up by back-to-back threes by junior guard JoJo McGlaston.
“I liked the way we started, and I liked our spacing,” Wardle said. “I liked how we were moving the ball. When we’re communicating and talking, we’re a much better team, and we definitely had that in the first half.”
Bradley’s solid defense was able to get Drake’s offense out of rhythm from the start, and the Braves held a 41-23 lead at halftime.
“Bradley certainly went out and won that basketball game, and honestly, I thought they won it in that first ten minutes of that game,” Drake head coach Jeff Rutter said. “We talk about us wanting to get a team on their heels and being in attack mode, and it was just the opposite. We dug ourselves a big hole.”
Over the last few weeks, Wardle said the team needed stronger leadership from their freshman point guards. Well that’s exactly what happened on Saturday. Freshman point guard Jayden Hodgson set a career high with seven assists, while freshman Darrell Brown added five assists and 20 points.
“Brown and Hodgson are doing a really good job of learning: picking their spots in when they talk, when to lead, when to speak up, holding each other accountable,” Wardle said. “There’s a lot of room to grow in that area but we’re making the right strides. We’ve just got to keep working that and keep developing our good habits when it comes to leadership.”
The second half saw Drake score 49 points and draw within five points of the Braves with 57 seconds remaining, but the Braves were able to hold off the Bulldogs. Brown made his free throws down the stretch, finishing 14-15 from the free-throw line to finish off Drake.
“We’ve got to start the half like we’re down,” Thomas said. “I feel like we came out kind of nonchalant, not making the effort plays that we were making in the first half. That led them to some good transition offense and some tough buckets they made.”
Bradley plays two road games this upcoming week at Illinois State Saturday night and at Northern Iowa Wednesday night.