“I think there is a spirit out there. The mascot is going around; it’s spooking other teams.”
That’s who Bradley senior forward Malevy Leons served up as the reason for the Braves dominance at home.
He must have forgotten about his five 3-pointers Saturday evening in Bradley’s 88-66 win over Valparaiso at home. Those shots may have been due to some extra shooting before the game.
“I just wanted to bring something,” Leons said. “I hadn’t made many shots in [recent] games so I was trying to get my shot.”
The Netherlands native fessed up to making 55 threes after the team’s walkthrough ended Saturday morning. Staying late paid off.
“It’s good to see him get hot again because he’s been struggling a little bit in the last four to five games shooting from three but he got it going today,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said.
But it wasn’t just Leons who made the Beacons (6-11, 0-6 MVC) pay, it was the entire Bradley frontcourt who easily put the road team away. Shooting 24-36 combined, the Braves’ big men put up 59 points and never let up against a porous Valparaiso defense.
“Yeah we’ve got depth there,” Wardle said. “When we were dealing with injuries early in the year we were thin there. Now we are healthy and have everyone back and we can definitely come at you off the bench with a lot of talent.”
The performance that the crowd of 4,476 at Carver Arena got was an electric one from start to finish. The Beacons started with a defense that stressed double-teaming Leons and Bradley junior forward Rienk Mast in the post. Soon enough, the Braves had fired away six treys and made four, three of which came from Leons, and the home advantage was 16-4 at the 14:36 mark.
Valparaiso outscored the Braves 7-2 after the first break, but right before the second media timeout arrived, Bradley sophomore guard Connor Hickman nailed a three to up the BU lead to 21-11 with 11:49 to go.
By the time the third media break came, the Beacons were already in a deep hole. Bradley, taking a break from behind the arc, attacked the inside and forward Ja’Shon Henry led the group onward.
After slamming his first bucket home, Henry broke away on a fast break after a steal. Trailing behind the play was Beacons forward Ibra Bayu who crunched Henry from behind, sending the Canadian to the floor at the 9:19 mark. It was a scene that was reminiscent of Henry’s past history of concussions. This time, the forward got up unscathed.
Henry would make both of the flagrant foul’s free throws and scored five more to complete a 9-0 run by himself over a 58 second span.
With the Braves up 39-17 with 6:48 left in the first half, the Braves continued to blow past the Beacons, heading to the locker room with a 49-24 lead.
Out of the locker room, Mast was looking to build on his four first-half points.
“I was kind of frustrated during the halftime,” Mast said. “[Valpo forward Ben] Krikke was playing really well in the first half and that’s a matchup I was looking forward to, so guys [started] feeding me the ball and finally shots went down.”
Valparaiso disregarded their game plan to contain Mast in the second half as the Dutch big man dominated Krikke and the Beacons’ defense, scoring 13 second-half points by the 13:32 mark. At that point, Bradleys lead had ballooned to 28.
With 11:15 to go, Braves’ junior forward Darius Hannah rebounded a Leons miss and put it up over a Valpo defender for Bradley’s largest lead of the game at 73-40. From then on, the Braves kept their foot down on the gas and even let the new addition to the team, 7-foot-1 freshman forward Ahmet Jonovic, get some playing time. That was when the crowd got up.
With the shot clock winding down, Bradley guard James ‘Pop’ Weathers dished it inside to Jonovic. Just inside the 3-point arc, the Serbian forward softly pulled up and cashed in his first points since joining the team six days ago.
The crowd erupted with applause for the newest big man on campus and held it as the Braves completed their 16th straight win at Carver Arena. Afterwards, Mast reflected on how the team’s depth has become their calling card.
“We know that if we just bring our toughness, maybe the first half [our opponent] will be able to deal with it, but [eventually] we can wear people down,” Mast said. “23 assists and nine turnovers, that’s going to win you a game.”
Mast finished with 17 points and nine rebounds while Leons led the team with 19 points. Henry added 11 off the bench while Hannah and Hickman each contributed 10 points. Bradley shot 58 percent from the field and 44 percent from three.
“I don’t feel like we dip when somebody comes off the bench, Leons said. “That’s when we can build a lead on other teams with our depth.”
It was a complete win from start to finish and pushed Bradley up to 11-6 on the season and 4-2 in Valley play. Bradley will look to extend their win streak at home to 17 games when the Evansville Purple Aces arrive in Peoria on Wednesday for a showdown with the Braves at 7 p.m.