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Braves bend, but don’t break to take down Norfolk State

After trailing most of the first half to Norfolk State, Bradley captured the lead just before heading to halftime and never trailed again, eventually claiming a 69-57 victory.

The Braves, now 3-1, used another strong second half to propel themselves to their third straight home victory, shooting an even 50 percent from the floor, while allowing the Spartans to shoot just 32 percent in the second half.

Despite trailing the last 22-plus minutes of the game, Norfolk State did not go away, keeping Bradley’s lead within single digits until under 30 seconds were left to play.

“That was a good win against a good opponent, I think [Norfolk State is] hard to play,” head coach Brian Wardle said. “We had a lot of good opportunities offensively and we just couldn’t connect. I give our guys credit though, we made shots when we needed to, got stops when we needed to …”

The Spartans’ defense kept Bradley’s offense off-balance by switching between man-to-man, zone and press looks throughout the matchup. Despite facing the different defenses, Bradley turned the ball over just 12 times, something Wardle was happy with. 

“They’re a hard team to prepare for in one day prep,” Wardle said. “They did a lot of things that we have not seen at all this year, so it was a good experience for our guys. I love that we only have 12 turnovers, in a game like that because [Norfolk State] creates turnovers.”

 Despite being edged in points in the paint 32-30, Bradley won the battle on the boards with 37, including 15 on the offensive glass, which resulted in 12 points scored off of second chance opportunities.

After junior Elijah Childs picked up two fouls within the first three minutes, senior Koch Bar stepped up in the backcourt for the Braves, scoring 15 points, 13 of which came in the first half.

 “I thought he could’ve had even more [points],” Wardle said of Bar’s performance. “But he was huge for us in the first half … He’s been big, he’s playing like a senior.”

Bar had his presence felt on both ends of the court, pulling down eight rebounds, five of which came on the offensive end. Bar also blocked two shots, reaching the 100 block mark in his four-year Bradley career. 

“I just go out there and play hard,” Bar said. “That’s what I do the most, just play hard, trying to go up and down and be present in defense and also the offense.”

 Junior Nate Kennell hit his stride in the closing stages of the game, scoring eight of his 11 points in the second half. Kennell helped Bradley slam the door by producing two 3-pointers and an alley-oop assist to sophomore Ja’Shon Henry with under five and a half minutes to go.

 “I was coming off a screen, Nate threw it and it was a really great pass and I was able to finish,” Henry said. “Those next stretches, Nate hit those threes, those are just big-time momentum swings.”

Henry found double-digits off the bench yet again, scoring 10 points, something he’s done in all three of his games this season.

Senior Darrell Brown was second for the Braves in scoring with 13 points, along with eight assists. Brown is averaging 7.25 assists per game, which ranks in the top 15 in the NCAA.

Childs bounced back from the early foul trouble by scoring all of his 11 points in the second half on five for five shooting from the field.  

Ahead of the Braves’ Friday night matchup with Radford, emphasis is likely to be placed on the team’s shooting.

“We got to hopefully shoot the ball better as we move forward in this arena,” Wardle said. “We got to connect on some of these threes, and definitely finishing at the rim has got to continue to improve. And it’s been worked on, every day, a lot, and hopefully it’ll carry over to a game here soon.”

The Braves face the Highlanders, who are fresh off a victory over Northwestern, 6 p.m. Friday at Carver Arena. 

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