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Aggies prove too much for Braves in Utah

Duke Deen brings the ball up versus Wisconsin Parkside. Photo by Jenna Zeise

Arriving in Logan, Utah for the team’s first road game of the season, Bradley men’s basketball (1-1) went cold, getting outrebounded by their quality opponent in the Utah State Aggies (2-0).

Guard Steven Ashworth and forward Zee Hamoda combined for 43 points while two other Aggies reached double figures to claim a physical 84-62 victory over the Braves at home.

“I feel like we doubted ourselves,” junior guard Duke Deen said. “I feel like we should’ve stuck to our bread and butter which is defending, rebounding and believing that we can compete with anybody.”

Both teams shot as if there were lids covering the rims, as the two squads traded open misses and fouls in the first five minutes of action. Finally, a 12-2 Aggies run propelled the home team ahead 18-6, causing Braves’ head coach Brian Wardle to call his first timeout around the 10-minute mark.

After the timeout, Bradley responded with a triple from sophomore Zek Montgomery, but the Braves saw themselves in a 27-9 hole with eight minutes left in the first. Hoping for a momentum swing, Wardle implemented a short three-fourths court press that allowed Bradley to shrink the Aggies’ lead down to eight.

“At that point, we were the aggressor,” senior forward Malevy Leons said.

As much as the press confused the Aggies, the Mountain West foe responded by going on a run of their own, eventually leading to a 45-32 Utah State lead at halftime. Both teams combined for 29 fouls in the first half. The heavy barrage of whistles didn’t please either coach and made it difficult for both teams to rely on their trademark physicality.

In the second half, the Braves continued to lose the battle of the boards, helping Utah State open up a 61-39 lead – their largest of the game.

Wardle’s squad made another run, pushing the deficit to 13 multiple times, but Utah State never seemed to lose control. A deep three by Hamoda in the closing minutes displayed the kind of night it was in Logan – one where the Aggies had everything working and quite the opposite fortune for the Braves.

After the game, Wardle admitted that he thought his team really only competed for about 15 minutes of the action.

“I thought we would compete at least, and that’s the disappointing part,” Wardle said. “It’s one thing to get beat, [but] it’s also how you get beat.”

The rebound battle in Utah was the first instance this season where injured forward Rienk Mast may have made a difference in the game’s outcome. Usually the aggressor on the boards, Bradley was outmatched by their lengthy opponents, grabbing 31 rebounds as opposed to the Aggies’ 46. In addition, the Braves earned a meager 18 points from their bench while Utah State received 54 from their sideline shooters.

Zek Montgomery pushes the ball up the court. Photo by Jenna Zeise

Despite Deen finishing with 15 and Montgomery with 12, the limited production from up and down the lineup was noted.

“When you go on the road, your stars got to be your stars,” Wardle said. “We’re still figuring out who that is with Rienk out.”

Next up on the Braves’ schedule is the Eastern Michigan Eagles (1-1), who went toe-to-toe with No. 22 Michigan on Friday night before eventually being downed 88-83. Star forward Emoni Bates scored 30 in his Eagles debut while guard Noah Farrakhan (19 points on Friday night) will be a tough matchup for Wardle’s squad as well.

The Eagles will possess another test for the Braves when they match up on Tuesday, but as for how the Braves will move past Friday’s loss, Deen offered a clear message.

“[There’s] 29 more games. It’s not the end of the world; get back up and compete.”

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