The Bradley men’s basketball team lived to fight another day as they defeated Drake 63-61 Friday in St. Louis. The Braves advance to the semifinals of Arch Madness for the first time since 2010.
Bradley started slow against the Bulldogs, allowing them to start with a 15-7 lead less than six minutes into the game. But as the first half progressed, the Braves locked down on their defense and started chipping away at the deficit.
The Braves fought valiantly and even took a four point lead at 23-19, though the Bulldogs were able to retake their lead and led 35-27 at the half.
Bradley came storming out of the locker room and started the second half with a 12-0 run. Senior forward Donte Thomas said the aggressive start to the second half was due to a teammate’s fiery speech.
“It all started in the locker room,” Thomas said. “Our teammate [junior] Luqman Lundy got us all fired up. He was getting on us like [head coach Brian Wardle] would and I think we needed that different voice.”
The rest of the second half would be a back and forth battle until Drake took a 59-56 lead with 5:51 remaining. Both teams traded a pair of free throws, then sophomore guard Darrell Brown sank a three-point shot to knot the score at 61.
Neither team scored for over two minutes, but both tightened up on defense. The Braves turned the ball over on a shot clock violation, which Wardle thought he called a timeout prior to the buzzer.
Nonetheless, Drake took over possession with 43 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs were unable to convert and the Braves were able to take a timeout with 13 seconds left. After a foul on Drake, the Braves had five seconds off of an inbound play near their own bench.
Junior guard Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye inbounded the ball quickly to Thomas and then got a quick pass back and drove to the basket. Lautier-Ogunleye went down hard, but did not draw a foul. Thomas was able to pick the ball up and put a shot in off the backboard with 1.2 seconds left.
Wardle said he was happy the inbound play was close enough to the bench to communicate with Lautier-Ogunleye.
“Luckily [Lautier-Ogunleye] was right in front of me. I told him, ‘Look for [Thomas] and cut,’” Wardle said. “[Lautier-Ogunleye] made a heads-up play.”
Drake quickly inbounded the ball and threw up a long shot that narrowly missed. Thomas said he was worried as the half-court shot flew towards the basket.
“It looked so good I am like, ‘Oh no, this can’t happen,’” Thomas said. “I’m just thankful to the basketball gods.”
The Braves found success in the second half on the glass, grabbing 11 offensive rebounds compared to the three the Braves had in the first half. Wardle said the team’s domination in rebounds contributed to the win.
“We were losing the rebound battle in the first half,” Wardle said. “We came out and were able to get offensive rebounds which allowed us to hang around in this game.”
Brown played a big game for the Braves, knocking down 24 points – 17 of which came in the second half. Leading up to the game, he was in a walking boot due to an ankle injury sustained last Saturday and was not able to practice until Thursday. But Brown said he knew he was ready to go after he had the chance to recuperate.
“I needed a couple days to get my ankle good and rested,” Brown said. “I knew I wasn’t going to miss this game for anything. I had to be here for [Thomas].”
Next up for the Braves is a 2:30 p.m. game against Loyola tomorrow at the Scottrade Center. The winner will advance to the conference championship game.