The old basketball adage claims that teams either live by the 3 or die by the 3.
In Bradley’s 88-84 loss on Friday night, South Dakota State thrived from 3 point range, shooting a remarkable 17-26 from deep to down the Braves.
“Crazy game,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said. “They’re a good team, they were better than us, obviously, for 40 minutes…. [We] definitely could’ve beat them, but we just didn’t play as smart as them and execute as well as them.”
Bradley controlled the lead for 17 minutes in the first half and led by as much as 11, but entered the locker room with a slim 41-35 lead.
In the second half, the tides turned as the Jackrabbits started the frame with an 11-2 stretch to create a seesaw battle in which the lead exchanged hands 11 times.
That battle was determined by SDSU’s timely shooting from beyond the arc. Wide open shots, deep balls from just steps in front of the half court logo and bank shots all fell in the second half, contributing to a 10-12 mark from 3.
Ultimately, with 7:15 to play, Jacks guard Matt Mims connected with a corner 3-ball that would keep the Braves chasing for the rest of the game.
“They just made big shots the whole second half,” Wardle said. “Just big shot after big shot after big shot … I just thought we got undisciplined at times defensively which led to some threes.”
The Braves’ tempo was key on the offensive end, as the team attempted to take shots sooner in the shot clock and force a less athletic Jackrabbits team to play a full-court game.
When Bradley was able to do so, it worked, as the team collected eight points and 16 points off turnovers. When the Braves failed to push the pace, SDSU was able to create separation.
“That was one of our offensive keys, to push the break on them,” junior forward Ja’Shon Henry said. “We felt like we were a faster team than them. In the first half, we were doing that really well, we were pushing the break on defensive rebounds… We kind of got away from that in the second half, shot some contested, hard midrange shots, forced 3s and things like that.”
Jackrabbits sophomore sharpshooter Noah Freidel was a big part of Bradley’s defensive troubles, picking up 24 points, including five 3-point shots.
Interestingly enough, the 6-foot 4-inch guard found himself on the bench to start the game for the first time this season, but still posted his season-high in points.
“Like all programs, we have a certain standard that every member of the team has to abide by and he had a little hiccup, so we had to hold him accountable for it,” SDSU head coach Eric Henderson said. “I was really proud of how he responded. Sometimes you can put your head between your legs and feel sorry for yourself and Noah didn’t do that.”
Bradley received a balanced effort across the statsheet in its second-highest scoring game of the season thus far.
For the fifth time this season, senior forward Elijah Childs led the Braves with a season-high 18 points, with a career-high three treys.
Junior guard Terry Nolan Jr. picked up 17 points to go with seven rebounds and six assists. Sophomore Sean East joined his backcourt mate in double figures with a season-high 15 points in addition to six assists.
After leaving the game in the first half with an apparent ankle injury, Henry re-entered the game in the second half to play big minutes down the stretch and finish with 16 points.
“I didn’t hear a pop or a crack or anything like that,” Henry said. “I figured it was just a small tweak, it was just pain on the high part of my ankle. Once I stood up and was able to put pressure on it, I knew it wasn’t that bad … I’m going to do some rehab tomorrow and I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
The loss drops Bradley’s record to 3-2, with an 0-2 mark against teams ranked in the KenPom top 100. However, the Braves assert that the close loss will be a good thing in the long run.
“[It gives us] motivation,” Henry said. “I think in practice we’re going to lock in even more on certain details. We lost to a really good team… At the end of the day, it’s one game. It’s still super early in the year. I’m not worried about it at all, our guys are going to bounce back.”