When the final buzzer sounded, Bradley had completed its sixth comeback of the year after trailing at the half.
Missouri State led for the majority of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament quarterfinal against Bradley. After struggling in the first half, the Braves took the lead late in the second and closed the game with a 61-58 victory. They only led for eight minutes the entire game.
Bradley did not take the lead until the 12:39 mark of the second half. The two teams battled back and forth until the four-minute mark when sophomore forward Elijah Childs hit a 3-pointer to put the Braves up three, just his 12th of the year. He finished the game with 12 points and seven rebounds.
“Shooters shoot,” Childs said. “I think I’m a shooter so I’m gonna shoot it. My teammates give me confidence and if it feels good and it doesn’t go in, my coach tells me to keep shooting it.
Junior guard Darrell Brown hit a jumper soon after to give Bradley a 54-49 cushion with three minutes remaining. Brown managed to get to the free throw line twice and hit four free throws in the next minute to put Bradley up six. Brown hit 10-of-10 free throws during the game and totaled a team-high 20 points.
Missouri State responded by getting to the line twice as well and hit four free throws.
With the lead cut to two, 58-56, junior guard Nate Kennell got to the line after an open fast break but missed his only free throw chance. The Bears called a timeout and got the ball to guard Keandre Cook who had his 3-point shot blocked by Childs.
“I knew [Keandre] Cook was going to shoot it, so I had to get my hands up and get out there quickly,” Childs said. “He had a pretty good look, and if I didn’t jump I knew he was going to make it.”
The Braves turned the ball over on the next possession off a long inbound pass, but Missouri State’s Ryan Kreklow missed a 3-pointer to take the lead. Missouri State had another chance with a jumper two seconds left to make the score 60-58 but missed. Childs was fouled, hit one free throw and the Bears were unable to hit the long half-court heave to tie the game.
Halftime signaled a major regrouping for the Braves. They came out of the locker room and processed an 11-4 run to put themselves in a position to take the lead.
“I thought offensively we tried to get the tempo up as much as we could,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said. “We picked our spots doing that. I thought how we started the second half really set the tone for our group. I thought we came out hungry and aggressive.”
The Braves defense held the Bears to only one 3-pointer in the second half and kept forward Tulio Da Silva to only three points the entire game, his season low. Da Silva scored a season-high, 24 points, in a game against Bradley on Jan. 12.
“[Da Silva] is a very athletic, talented player and he dives to that rim,” Wardle said. “He gets lobs, gets offensive rebounds and we wanted to take that away and try to keep the ball in front of us as good as we can.”
Wardle pointed to Childs as one of the reasons the Braves kept Da Silva at bay.
“I thought Elijah Childs was tremendous defensively in the second half,” Wardle said. “I know he’s got a chip on his shoulder. He wasn’t on All-Defensive team, but I don’t know if there’s a better defender out there that can guard one through five.”
Both teams struggled to make shots early. In the first half, Missouri State made 6-of-14 3-pointers, while Bradley only hit two threes.
Three minutes into the game, Childs picked up a technical foul, preventing him from playing a large number of minutes for the rest of the half.
Freshman guard Ja’Shon Henry entered the game in place of Childs and immediately started to produce for the Braves. He was one of only four Braves to score in the first half, tallying six points. He finished the contest with eight.
“Our depth on our team is really good and it works to our advantage,” Henry said. “I was able to do my role and help the team win.”
Bradley continues its postseason run tomorrow against Loyola. Wardle said following last week’s loss against the Ramblers in Chicago, Bradley needed to be more physical. Tip-off is at 2:30 p.m. at Enterprise Center in downtown St. Louis.
Visit photo gallery – Bradley defeats Missouri State in MVC quarterfinal