After squandering a 16-point second half lead on Saturday at Loyola-Chicago, Bradley made sure a similar tale wasn’t possible on Wednesday night in a 79-47 victory over Evansville.
The drubbing snaps a three-game losing streak for the Braves (8-9, 2-3 MVC),which included the blown lead at Loyola, a game-winning buzzer-beating shot by Missouri State’s Isiaih Mosley and a road defeat to a shorthanded Indiana State squad.
“I think, after losing three heartbreakers in a row, maybe they said ‘enough is enough, let’s go,’” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said. “We’ve got to build off that.”
“After the last two close losses, you know you’re there, but then you don’t get the wins,” sophomore forward Rienk Mast said. “Just to get a win like this today really feels good and emphasizes that we’re on the right track.”
The victory didn’t just mark a bounce-back for the Braves as a whole, either, as junior guard and leading scorer Terry Roberts found double figures in the scoring column for the first time in two games.
“I just had to get back,” Roberts said with a smile. “I had to continue to show myself you can’t take games off… My teammates helped me a lot, my coaches have – they put a lot of confidence in me and continue to remind me I can do it.”
In fact, he fell three assists short of recording a triple-double; something a Brave hasn’t done since Cal Criddle recorded 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against St. Louis on Feb. 28, 1970.
“I think Terry will get some in his career, I do think that,” Wardle said.
The Braves trailed just once in the contest, and gained separation before the half thanks to a dominant frame from sophomore forward Rienk Mast, who recorded a 16-point, 11-rebound double double in the first 20 minutes alone.
“I saw they didn’t really have a presence in the post, like a [Missouri State forward Gaige] Prim, so I knew there were some chances for me to get going early,” Mast said. “I think I did a good job taking advantage, and my teammates found me on some drop offs.”
After Evansville narrowed Bradley’s lead to 11-8 at the 11:30 mark of the first half, Bradley boosted its lead to double figures with an 8-0 run, which put BU in command for the rest of the first half, leading to a 36-24 advantage at the break.
The Purple Aces appeared briefly rejuvenated out of the locker room, as freshman forward Preston Phillips made a layup and senior guard Juwaun Newton made two free throws and cashed in a 3-pointer within the first two minutes of the half, trimming the lead down to seven.
That’s as close as it would be for the rest of the contest. For the last 17:46 of the game, Bradley outscored Evansville 41-19 to put it away.
“[Our team] deserved this performance,” Wardle said. “They were due for one. I thought we played well… We never let [Evansville] get in rhythm offensively.”
Mast led the scoring effort with 23 points in addition to 13 rebounds, setting a season-high for the second consecutive night. Roberts followed with 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
While Roberts fell three assists shy of the record books, he and Mast became the first Braves’ duo to record double-doubles in the same game since Darrell Brown and Elijah Childs did so against IUPUI in Nov. 2019.
Five other Braves recorded five points or more, highlighted by nine points from junior Malevy Leons and seven from sophomore Jayson Kent.
The Evansville side of the box score wasn’t so balanced, as Newton and senior guard Shamar Givance both scored 16 points, but no other Ace scored more than five.
According to Wardle, the slump-busting win was a product of communication between players and player-led practices over the last two days prior to the game.
“Our talk and how we respond to things is important – I thought we responded and talked well, even when things weren’t going for us,” Wardle said. “I didn’t have to say a whole lot, they were telling each other… That’s what we’ve got to continue to grow, and build that bond.”
The victory comes before the first I-74 rivalry matchup with Illinois State of the season. The Braves will face the Redbirds on the road at Redbird Arena on Sunday.
Mast, Roberts and the Braves can’t wait.
“[My teammates have said] it’s gonna be crazy,” Roberts said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. on Sunday night.