Press "Enter" to skip to content

Bradley zips up non-conference play with win over Akron

Ville Tahvanainen dribbles up the court. Photo courtesy of Bradley Basketball/Twitter

The arctic conditions outside Carver Arena couldn’t stop the red-hot Bradley men’s basketball team, as the Braves won their sixth game in their last seven contests in a 74-55 drubbing of Akron on Thursday.

In the final non-conference game of their season, Bradley (9-4) extended their home winning streak to 14 games behind a double-double from junior forward Rienk Mast and three other double-digit scorers. Mast finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds for his 14th career points-rebounds double-double, tying him with Hersey Hawkins and Marcellus Sommerville for 19th in program history in that category.

“This is our home,” Mast said. “When the fans get it going and we’re feeling good, we can get a couple runs and that makes it real tough on other teams. We always say ‘you don’t come into our house and beat us.’”

The home cooking was strong Thursday evening, as the Braves got out to an early 13-2 lead behind threes from senior forward Malevy Leons and junior guard Duke Deen, the latter of which a game removed from nearly tying the school’s single-game record for treys. Bradley kept up the pressure, eventually jumping up 23-7 at the 8:23 mark in the first half by making five straight shots from downtown.

Akron (7-5), on the other hand, couldn’t get anything to fall. The visitors started the game shooting at an 0-10 clip, with their first field goal coming over eight minutes into the contest. The Zips had eight first-half turnovers, all of which came during Bradley’s opening run.

Yet, the Zips were able to do what they do best and draw contact. Mast, Leons, Deen and fifth-year forward Ja’Shon Henry were all on the bench to end the first half with two fouls, striking some worry in the Bradley faithful as Akron pulled within 13 with 3:49 to go in the frame. However, this was no problem for senior forward Ville Tahvanainen, who hit two of his three first-half 3-pointers to send the Braves into the locker room up 36-19.

“He’s a great 3-point shooter, [he’s] just been a little cold the last three or four games but it was great to see him bust out today,” head coach Brian Wardle said.

The Braves continued to heat up despite the weather, once again going on a big run to start the second half. Nursing a 43-22 lead after an and-one from sophomore guard Zek Montgomery, a Deen step-back three kicked off a string of three straight treys from Bradley that ballooned their lead out to 30 with 14:51 to go.

“I just thought we shot shots that we can make and we practice everyday and usually those go in,” Wardle said.

Rienk Mast holds the ball against Northern Iowa. Photo by Jenna Zeise.

A fadeaway three from Akron’s Xavier Castaneda ended the 14-0 Bradley run and was the catalyst for a 9-2 run from the Zips as they tried to get themselves back into the game. Montgomery wasn’t having it though, as his three from the right wing with 10:47 left put him in double figures and made it 59-31 Braves.

It was back-and-forth for the next six minutes or so, until back-to-back threes from Tahvanainen and Montgomery put the Braves up 29, all but wrapping things up.

“It was a good team effort,” Wardle said. “Akron’s a good team, they’re gonna contend in that league and I love how we handled them.”

It was one of the Braves’ better shooting days, as they shot over 46 percent from beyond the arc while holding Akron to just 28 percent shooting, forcing 15 turnovers in the process. Bradley also cut down on their own turnovers (8), something that had been hurting them their last six times out where they averaged over 18 a game.

“Our forwards really took care of the ball,” Wardle said. “Rienk, Darius [Hannah], Malevy, I thought they really shared the ball, we found the open man and ball movement was quick which was good and then we were making our shots.”

Montgomery put up his highest point total of the season with 13, while Tahvanainen was just one shy of his season-high with 14 as he went 4-6 from deep, the most threes he’s made all year. Deen matched that number, adding four assists to go with his 14 points.

“Every game is important, but this is the last one before break and you wanna go into conference with a little momentum,” Deen said. “Say you lose, it’s gonna be tough to try and bounce back into conference when people have 13 games to watch and prepare for you.”

The Braves will get a break over Christmas before heading to Nashville for the first time ever to take on new conference foe Belmont on Dec. 28.

“You always wanna end on a win before break if you can,” Wardle said. “We got a lot to improve on still, a lot to still learn and grow together. I’m excited for this team but we just gotta keep building it one day at a time.”

Copyright © 2023, The Scout, Bradley University. All rights reserved.
The Scout is published by members of the student body of Bradley University. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University.