After suffering a 71-66 loss on Friday to start a weekend tilt versus Loyola-Chicago, Bradley bounced back to score a 57-55 triumph in the nightcap on Saturday night.
While Friday’s game was marked by turnovers and the lack of a spark – something Bradley head coach Andrea Gorski cited following the game – Saturday’s win was keyed by stout defense and the ability to overcome cold shooting to grit out a physical win.
The Braves shot about 33 percent on 58 field goal attempts and converted on just 13 of 22 free throws but blocked 11 shots and forced 12 turnovers. Five of Bradley’s 19 makes from the field came via three-pointers from junior guard Tatum Koenig, who led the team in scoring.
“We weren’t shooting the ball the best we have,” Koenig said. “We were running motion and we needed to get into Nyjah [White], Emily [Marsh], whoever could pin their girl down there. We were looking to get it in. We weren’t shooting it the best down there either. But it was our plan to still bury them in there.”
In Friday’s defeat, the Braves and Ramblers combined to turn the ball over 30 times, many of which came in the game’s opening frame. Saturday’s game, by contrast, saw just 21 combined giveaways, only 9 of which came from Bradley.
After Bradley opened up a six-point lead early in the first quarter, Loyola-Chicago mounted a 16-7 run to take a 16-13 lead at the first frame’s close. Several traded baskets throughout the balance of the second quarter led to the Ramblers maintaining a 29-28 lead at halftime.
It was not a sloppy game, but it was physical and tough for either side to build a significant stretch of dominance.
“Loyola is a very patient team on offense,” Gorski said. “They make you play defense for 20 seconds almost every time, if not 25 seconds. It takes a lot out of you and then if you don’t get the rebound it’s very demoralizing.”
Bradley controlled the boards by a slim margin, finishing with 41 to Loyola’s 40. Many of the Braves’ rebounds came in bunches as senior Nyjah White created second chance points seemingly at will. At one point in the third quarter, the senior tallied three rebounds within 5 seconds and finished the sequence with a basket.
“Nyjah had a great bounce to her step today,” Gorski said. “She had multiple times where she got her own rebound two, three times and she stayed with the play. She was getting contact but didn’t get frustrated … and when she does that, she’s very good.”
White finished with 9 boards, which tied fellow senior Gabi Haack’s output for a team-best.
Like Friday’s nailbiter, Saturday’s game came down to the wire. The Braves controlled the game for much of the fourth quarter, but the Ramblers were able to knock down several clutch threes late courtesy of freshman Maya Chandler.
The Ramblers were forced to foul, but after enough answers on the offensive end and enough Bradley misses at the stripe, a chance remained. With three seconds left and Bradley up by two, Koenig missed a pair of free throws to open the door for one last attempt.
Bre Hampton-Bey snagged the rebound and drove up the floor with a chance to tie, but failed to recognize the time remaining and passed the ball as time ran out. Approximately 22 hours after the Ramblers had capitalized on a late turnover to lay the ball up as time expired, the Braves had evened the series.
“We had something drawn up and ready to go because we had thought she was going to make them,” Loyola-Chicago head coach Kate Achter said. “And we were prepared to handle it and we just, you know, sometimes that’s the way the ball bounces.”
The Braves now gear up for a road test at rival Illinois State on Wednesday night. Tip-off is slated for 6 p.m. and the game can be seen on ESPN+.