The Bradley men’s basketball team seems to frequently dig themselves into deep holes. Fortunately for the Braves, they are good at digging themselves out of those holes.
After a 0-5 start to the conference season, many people wrote off the Braves. They turned around its conference season and finished 9-9.
Many people also wrote them off when they were down by as many as 18 in the second half of the Missouri Valley Conference final. The Braves also turned around that game and came out on top, 57-54, over Northern Iowa. They became the second five seed to win the conference tournament.
Head coach Brian Wardle said the game and the season were never easy for the Braves.
“It’s been a journey,” Wardle said. “We got no shortcuts. We went through it all as a group and we earned this.”
The Braves were down by 12 points at the half after struggling on the offensive side of the ball. The Panthers added to their lead until the 17:07 mark in the second half when they led by 18, 35-17.
Wardle gave UNI credit for the fast start they had in the first half and early in the second.
“They came out on fire,” Wardle said. “They were making some shots. They had a lot of momentum.”
Bradley was propelled by a 42-point second half after only scoring 15 points in the first half. Sophomore Elijah Childs led Bradley with 16 points and senior Luqman Lundy tied his career-high of 11 points, all coming in the second half.
Lundy provided the largest spark for the Braves by scoring all his points on a 17-3 Bradley run to cut the Panthers’ lead to four at 38-34.
In the middle of the 17-3 run, senior guard Lautier-Ogunleye took a charge, and Bradley forced a held ball turnover and an errant pass.
The Braves rallied behind Lundy and Childs to close out the Braves’ first conference tournament victory since 1988 and secure the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006.
Postgame, Lundy said he just tried to do what he could for the team.
“I just tried to be aggressive and play my game,” Lundy said. “I trusted my teammates and myself.”
Senior forward Luuk van Bree was proud of the fight the Braves put forth.
“Coach never let us have any shortcuts,” van Bree said. “[We] probably made it as hard on ourselves as we possibly could, but we stuck with it.”
Another big shift for Bradley was a shooting foul and dead-ball technical called against UNI forward Luke McDonnell on Lautier-Ogunleye. Lautier-Ogunleye made the four free throws and Elijah Childs scored on the extra possession to put Bradley ahead 55-50.
“It helped turn the momentum around,” Lautier-Ogunleye said. “I wasn’t really sure what happened. I know I got fouled. They said we had more free throws from a technical, which was pretty cool.”
Lundy, overwhelmed with emotion, said he was happy his college career was not over.
“I really can’t believe we just did this right now,” Lundy said.“I cant stop crying.”
Childs earned the honor of Most Outstanding Player of the MVC Tournament with his three game performance of 38 points and 23 rebounds.
Lundy said this team is capable of anything at this time of the year.
“We are just going to make a run,” Lundy said. “Its March. Anything can happen.”
The Braves will have to wait until next Sunday to find out where they will be going for their first NCAA tournament game.