The Bradley men’s basketball team defeated UNI on Sunday to win the Missouri Valley Conference championship. They were the second five-seed to ever win the tournament.
It was the first championship game for the Braves since the 2006 season, when they lost against Southern Illinois.
Bradley went 17-14 during the regular season. They always identified themselves as a comeback team after having a dismal January record in conference play.
“I don’t know what to say right now,” Bradley junior Darrell Brown said after the championship win. “We started [the Valley season] 0-5 … we were down 16 this game, and we showed our heart. We came back again.”
This year was the last chance for the three seniors and redshirt junior to make a mark on the program. In their first year, the 2016 season, the team only won five games.
“It’s been a journey,” head coach Brian Wardle said. “We started from the bottom. Now we’re here. We’ve done it the right way … we did it for a lot of Braves fans that have been waiting to get back to the tournament.”
Coming out at halftime down 12, Bradley stifled UNI’s scoring and shot 57 percent, willing them to the close three-point win. For senior Peter Hanley, a Peoria native, the game went just as the entire season played out.
“We knew when we came out of halftime we would go on a run because that’s what we’ve done all year,” Hanley said. “The guys in this locker room are all high-character guys. Everyone is a fighter and it showed. It came out on the court today.”
Senior Luqman Lundy made his statement in the game, tying his career high of 11 points and eight rebounds.
“We all know we’re capable basketball players,” Lundy said. “We were going to make plays eventually. We had to stay the course, not get too high, not get too low, and thankfully it happened.”
Now with the championship title under their belt, the Braves will move on to compete in the NCAA tournament. They will find out who they are competing against on Selection Sunday, March 17.
“Everyone here has dreamed of this,” Hanley said of the tournament bid. “This is why you play the game so, hopefully, we can make some noise once we’re in there.”