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Benched: Drake’s second-string stings Braves in Des Moines

The Bradley Braves huddle during a timeout. Photo by Jenna Zeise.

It’s said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

For Bradley fans Saturday night, the 86-61 loss at Drake (14-5, 5-3) looked like the same road woes that continue to plague the team and drive insanity amongst the fan base.

Not only was the 25-point loss the largest of the season, but it had all the makings of a road performance that’s been all too typical for the Braves this season: poor offensive possessions followed up by tired defensive efforts only to be followed up by frustration the rest of the way.

“We let our offense dictate our defense again,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said. “Our defense was poor the majority of the game but so was our offense.”

What made the loss even more puzzling was that Bradley (12-7, 5-3) had entered the night allowing less than 59 points per game. That was shattered, thanks in part to Drake’s guard tandem off the bench. Sardaar Calhoun and Conor Enright combined for 29 points off the sideline, climbing past the 28 points that Bulldogs star Tucker DeVries scored himself.

Before the game got out of hand, Bradley silenced the crowd of over 4,000 at the Knapp Center in Des Moines, Iowa, by taking an early 10-4 lead. Braves’ junior guard Duke Deen hit bucket after bucket and reached eight early points at the 15:36 mark.

With 11:33 left in the first half, Wardle went to the bench, a unit that had scored over 30 points in four straight games. They totaled a meager eight points Saturday.

When Drake reached into their bench to match Bradley, things started to go the way of the ‘Dogs.

With 3-pointers from DeVries, Calhoun and Enright, soon enough, the Braves found themselves in a 31-19 hole. Pressure continued to mount as the crowd leaned in on the sudden Bradley collapse. When the halftime horn sounded, the Braves took their largest halftime deficit of the season into the locker room down 45-23.

“You could tell we weren’t listening to each other well on the defensive end,” Wardle said. “We started both halves well, but as soon as I went to the bench, we struggled a bit.”

While the Braves cut the deficit down to 17 at the 17:55 mark, foul trouble began to sneak into the Bradley lineup. Three fouls on junior forward Rienk Mast in a span of 17 seconds took the big man to the bench. Minutes later, Mast’s Dutch counterpart, senior forward Malevy Leons joined him with his third.

Bradley junior guard Duke Deen drives to the basket. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics.

Drake continued to pile on, reaching a 66-41 lead with 10:11 remaining in the second half. As the nightmarish performance continued to haunt the Braves, Deen, who had 19 points at the time, continued to shake off the pressure to give in.

“I just wanted us to fight; I didn’t want us to give up,” the junior said. “I wanted to fight till the end, I said it before the game so I just tried to reemphasize it.”

Try as they might, the deficit was far too substantial to climb past. When the buzzer sounded, Bradley’s largest road loss -and the teams fourth straight loss away from home- was over.

Deen finished with 21 points to lead the Braves, while Mast and Leons both pitched in 10 each in relief. Leons also brought down 10 boards for his fourth career double-double. Bradley was matched on the glass and from the bench, getting outrebounded 36-28 and outscored from the second units 33-8.

Afterwards, Wardle didn’t shy up to what needs to happen for the Braves to get past their biggest hurdle.

“We’re doing everything we can, and you can only take it one game at a time,” Wardle said. “So we’re doing everything we can as a staff to help these young men but honestly, it gets to a point in time where as a player you got to be able to do it. No one can do it for you.”

While the Braves seek answers from Saturday’s game, they’ll have to keep a short memory as another road test at conference-leader Indiana State on Wednesday awaits. The midweek clash with the Sycamores will be the only meeting this season, so a possible head-to-head tiebreaker could be on the line in Terre Haute, Indiana.

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