Coming off back-to-back road losses, Bradley received a boost from the return of junior forward Elijah Childs and survived an Evansville comeback attempt in a 69-58 win Sunday at Carver Arena.
The Braves led by as many as 14 in the second half after opening the frame on a 10-4 stretch. The Aces responded with a 9-0 run of their own and eventually charged back to steal the lead with 3:56 remaining.
Bradley didn’t find themselves down for long, thanks to some big plays from their leading scorers.
With Evansville up one, senior guard Darrell Brown charged to the other end and converted an and-one to give the Braves a lead they wouldn’t surrender the rest of the way. Thirty seconds later, Childs snared an offensive rebound off of a missed Brown free-throw and layed it back in. That provided the knockout punch in his first game since Jan. 4.
The rebound and field goal were just a small part of Childs’ big return, as he posted an 19-point, 11-rebound double-double.
“We work on free throw stunts everyday in practice, so [I was] just doing my job and executing the game plan,” Childs said. “[It] Felt great to be back out there with the team.”
The loss keeps Evansville winless in Missouri Valley Conference play, but Bradley head coach Brian Wardle believes his team took down a much-improved Aces squad.
“A win is a win and we will take them all,” Wardle said. “I’m just glad we could get out of this with a win. [Evansville is] due to beat some teams.”
Brown stepped up for the Braves all afternoon, scoring 22 points on 8-14 shooting from the field to lead the team in points for the second straight game.
“Being true to myself, being the player I am and taking what the defense gives me,” Brown said. “My teammates have been setting some good screens for me the bigs and the guards have been finding me… I have been able to make some easy shots.”
The vast majority of those shots came from inside the arc for Brown, as he shot just three 3-pointers and missed all. Collectively, the Braves went just 1-11 from distance, with the lone three coming from freshman Ville Tahvanainen in the second half.
Shooting the three was hardly the focus for the Braves, as their offensive attack was keyed in the paint, where they scored 38 of their 69 points in the game.
“I thought we could get to the paint and cause problems and we were bigger than them in a lot of positions,” Wardle said. “We did a good job of getting the ball inside. I thought we probably threw it inside too much at some instances. Overall, I thought that’s where we had an advantage, with size and length in the paint.”
A lot of those problems were caused by Childs, who contributed his fourth double-double of the season after missing 12 of the last 13 games. Despite the absence, Childs didn’t appear rusty, making seven of his 13 shots on the evening, including a one handed flush for his first score.
“[I had] a little rust but i played enough minutes where i can get back in the flow of the game,” said Childs, who logged 31 minutes. “The last couple weeks there was a lot of learning and figuring out how I can help the team.”
Also making his presence known in the painted area was senior Koch Bar, who scored just four points, but corralled 11 rebounds and had to guard some versatile Evansville big men.
“Koch Bar was really good, especially defensively. He didn’t make many mistakes at all today,” Wardle said. “For him to be out there guarding those guys on the perimeter was a big lift for us too.”
The victory brings the Braves to 16-9 and 7-5 in MVC games, which seats them in a fourth place tie with Indiana State, who comes to Peoria on Wednesday.
After going 7-5 without Childs, the Braves have all nine of their scholarship players healthy heading into the final six games of conference play. Three of those games come against teams tied with or standing ahead of Bradley.
Despite the challenges ahead, the team is confident with their leading scorer back in action.
“When somebody goes down regardless of its Eli, me, anybody else I just feel like the show has to keep going and we have to pick eachother up and keep trying to win games,” Brown said. “Once Eli’s back we will find our rhythm and keep practicing and getting our chemistry back right and we will be taking off from here.”
The Braves will look to continue their accent when they take on the Sycamores on Wednesday at 7 p.m.