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Braves pull away late, survive scare from Missouri Baptist

Alex Rouse dribbles off a screen against South Dakota. Photo by Jenna Zeise.

It wasn’t pretty, but Bradley women’s basketball (2-3) came away with a win over Missouri Baptist on Tuesday night, their second straight trip to the victory column.

“My team was trying to give me a heart attack for 33 minutes, but we pulled it out,” head coach Kate Popovec-Goss said, jokingly.

The Braves needed a fourth quarter surge to get the job done. With Bradley leading 42-41 and 8:13 left in the game, Missouri Baptist’s Lauren Ebert hit a three to put the Spartans up by two, the fifth time the NAIA member had a lead on the Braves at Renaissance Coliseum.

And then the run started.

After a pair of free throws from junior forward Daija Powell, junior guard Ruba Abo Hashesh got a steal on the other end and passed it off to junior forward Isis Fitch, who hit a three to regain the lead for the Braves. Senior forward Veronika Roberts swiped one away on the return trip, allowing Abo Hashesh to splash one from downtown. The guard from Sweden then finished at the rim on the next possession, completing a three-point play and giving Bradley a nine-point lead, their largest of the game up to that point.

Ruba Abo Hashesh dribbles the ball. Photo by Jenna Zeise.

The dominance didn’t stop there. The Braves’ defense forced six turnovers and allowed one make on eight shots in the final 7:15 of the game. With the ball in their hands, Bradley went 5-9 from the field including 3-4 from beyond the arc during the ending stretch.

When all was said and done, the Braves had a 24-2 run and a 66-46 victory.

“That fourth quarter is what our defense should look like,” Popovec-Goss said. “And that’s a principle of what we do because when you turn the ball over, we’re able to get out and run and get easy points. That’s what we really needed and that’s what got the run going.”

The rest of the game wasn’t so lopsided. Both teams came out of the gates cold, each shooting 25 percent from 3-point land in the opening quarter. Bradley was able to string a few shots together from the rest of the court, shooting 42 percent compared to the Spartans’ 20 and jumping out to an 18-11 lead after one frame.

At the start of the second, it was looking like an even worse showing. Neither team scored for the first four minutes before Missouri Baptist’s Tionne Taylor banked a layup off the glass. She would end up scoring all of the Spartans’ 10 points in the quarter as Bradley took a four-point lead into the half.

“I just felt like we came out really flat,” Popovec-Goss said. “We’re young, we’re trying to navigate it and we have to understand no matter who we’re playing [or] when we’re playing them, whether it’s home [or] away you have to approach each game with a really high intensity level and I felt that was lacking for a lot of the game and then we gave Missouri Baptist a lot of confidence.”

It also didn’t help that the Braves’ leading scorer, sophomore guard Caroline Waite, started 0-6 from three and 1-10 from the field. Combined, Bradley shot less than 30 percent in the first half, but forced eight second-quarter turnovers and got eight points from sophomore guard Alex Rouse to retain the lead.

“Just being patient and listening to my teammates and coaches telling me to pretty much get out my head and play my game,” Rouse said. “That’s what helped me to score like that.”

The third quarter was where the Spartans struck, doubling their field goal percentage and re-taking the lead for the first time since the first points of the game. After Ebert stole the ball, she knocked down a trey to make it 36-34 at the 3:20 mark in the frame, but it was Rouse who made a three-point play two minutes later to knot it at 39. The Old Dominion transfer finished with a career and game-high 17 points.

“We just needed someone to get to the rim, put their head down and make something easy happen and she did that,” Popovec-Goss said.

Alex Rouse shoots a layup in traffic. Photo by Jenna Zeise.

Once the fourth hit, the Spartans were no match for Rouse and the Braves.

“They were speeding us up so we just had to play our game and take our time,” Rouse said. “Doing what we know how to do and execute in the right way which helped us to come back.”

Abo Hashesh, who sparked the fourth quarter run, finished with 11 points, five assists and six rebounds. Powell added on eight points, eight rebounds and a career-high four steals and Fitch, coming off a 17-point effort against McNeese State, had 10 points, five rebounds and three steals. Waite finished with 15, despite not making her first three until the third quarter while also tying her career-high with five assists.

“The thing I love about [Caroline] is she’s so confident,” Popovec-Goss said. “It’s not easy when you’re struggling to come back and make shots and she did that at a high level today.”

The Braves forced 20 total turnovers and held the Spartans to just 31 percent from the field. However, it was the lack of points that came out of it that left Popovec-Goss wanting more.

“To be honest with you, we really weren’t that locked in defensively for most of the game,” Popovec-Goss said. “So, for us to have 17 points off of turnovers is great, but if the other team has 20 [turnovers] we should have far more.”

Still, a win’s a win, and now the first-year head coach has two under her belt.

“Ugly wins are way better than pretty losses,” Popovec-Goss said.

The squad gets a break over Thanksgiving before coming back to face Kansas City on Tuesday at 11 a.m.

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