Right off the bat, there’s only one good reason the Bradley men’s basketball team (3-21) lost 77-71 against Missouri State (10-13) last Tuesday night.
It wasn’t the defense, which allowed 77 points, but rather the offense, which once again suffered from a slow start.
In the first half, Bradley trailed 20-2, was scoreless for the first 5:54 of the game and made its first field goal with 8:31 left in the half.
“[Those were] 12 of our worst minutes we’ve played in a while,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said. “Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers was the story of the first half, and you can’t get those twelve minutes back.”
However, from the Braves’ first field goal from sophomore forward Donte Thomas until the end of the half, Bradley went on a 23-15 run to cut an 18-point defecit to only eight at halftime.
That run was followed by a second half that featured maybe one of the better offensive halves the Braves have seen all season.
“Once we became the aggressors, things turned our way, and we got confident and started making plays,” Wardle said. “The story in the second half was we didn’t want to defend, unfortunately.”
The Braves scored 42 points of their season best 71 total points in the second half, shot 53.6 percent from the floor and were led in scoring by Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye’s career-high 20 points.
“[Lautier-Ogunleye] was ready to shoot,” Wardle said. “He held his follow through, did fundamentally sound things to shoot threes and they went in … He’s got to cut back on his turnovers.”
Although Bradley reached season highs offensively, they were outdone by Missouri State’s 40-point half.
The Bears were led by Chris Kendrix, who topped all scorers with 21 points and provided a key fadeaway jumper, which beat the shot clock to make the score 73-67 with 1:41 left in the game.
Bradley was able to cut the Missouri State lead to two with 41 seconds left on an Antoine Pittman layup, but the Bears were able to ice the game with free throws after Thomas missed a long 3-point attempt.
“It’s just unfortunate,” Wardle said. “This was a game I thought we could come in here and steal. We just have to play a lot smarter.”
What the team did have against the Bears, though, was a competitive fire, which played a crucial factor in the team’s performance.
“They had fire, and that’s why we were in the game,” Wardle said. “Confrontation leads to growth. It’s going to help my relationship with some of these guys, and I need to know they have that fire. I like fire.”
Wardle cited Thomas, who finished with seven points and seven boards, as one of those players who brought a certain fiery additude to the game.
“I played with a little more competitiveness than I have been playing with the last few games,” Thomas said. “But I need to be more consistent with that, and that’s what I had a problem with, and [Wardle] needs me to do that. I just have to step it up and bring it every game like the last one.”
Moving toward the second half of conference play, the Braves find themselves in last place with a 1-9 conference record. Thomas said this season’s record is an indication of the team’s youth.
“It’s been a rough season so far,” Thomas said. “We’re a young team so it’s all part of the process. We’re just building and learning new steps and how D-I basketball goes and how tough the Missouri Valley Conference is to win it.”
The Braves will have a chance to exploit a great matchup tomorrow against the Indiana State Sycamores, who rely on the jump shot as the main part of their offense.
The Sycamores have shot an average of 21.7 3-pointers per game this season, and in six of their 10 losses, Indiana State shot under .300 percent from the 3-point range. Meaning, if the Braves can hold the Sycamores at the 3-point line, they’ll have a good shot at winning their second conference game.
While the Braves have improved defensively, Wardle said the challenge lies in remaining consistent.
“Defensively, we have great halves, and we’re running out of gas here and there because we’re not playing a whole of bodies,” Wardle said. “But we’re figuring some things out, and it has to do with stringing it together for longer periods of time and for a full game.”
With the MVC tournament one month away, the Braves still have time to gain ground in the conference and elude a Thursday play-in game for the fifth straight year.
“I think this month could be a good month for us to show our improvements and play better basketball,” Wardle said. “You want them to go out and get a victory because they do deserve it.”