It was a tale of two halves in Bradley’s 65-56 win over UIC at Carver Arena on Saturday night.
In the first half, the Braves shot a dismal 28.6 percent from the floor, including 0-9 from three, and headed to the locker room down 33-25.
“There was [a] fiery halftime,” head coach Brian Wardle said. “I told them, it might just be that night where we just don’t shoot the ball well, and it was, but we can still win this game…”
The fiery halftime led to a scorching second half, where the Braves started on an 11-0 run and held the Flames scoreless for the first 8 minutes and 20 seconds. With 11:05 to go in the second half, Bradley took the lead for good.
“It’s a good win,” Wardle said. “A lot of teams lose this game, I really do believe that.”
After allowing UIC to shoot 44.8 percent in the first half, the Braves defense allowed just one field goal through the first 14 and a half minutes of the second half. Bradley, on the other hand, shot 46.7 percent in the second half.
“We didn’t let our offense dictate our defense,” junior forward Elijah Childs said. “Even though we were missing shots, we kept on shooting them, and then we would go down and get a stop.”
After only recording two assists in the first half, the Braves racked up nine in the closing frame, including six from senior guard Darrell Brown.
“We played kinda selfish in the first half, taking some ill-advised shots,” Brown said. “We ran the same plays and stuff like that [in the second half], but [we were] just getting in the lane and making plays for others, driving to kick it to somebody else instead of always shooting the ball.”
The unselfish play culminated with two lob dunk assists from Brown; first to Childs at about the 9-minute mark of the second half, which drew the crowd of 5,411 plus to its feet, and the second to sophomore Ja’Shon Henry, to put an exclamation point on the victory with two minutes left to play.
“The veterans, we got a nice little chemistry,” Childs said. “I play off DB, he knows what I like to do, and I know what he likes to do.”
Childs posted a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double after not making a field goal in the first half.
Henry, who missed last weekend’s game with a hand injury, was a spark off the bench in the victory, scoring 14 points, 10 of which came in the second half.
“[Henry is] a versatile defender, just finished at the rim strong, brought us energy [and] he’s that matchup problem,” Wardle said. “He’s feeling good, feeling healthy and he’s gonna be a big part of what we do moving forward.”
Brown added 11 points to go with six assists and four steals, followed by nine points from redshirt-junior Danya Kingsby and eight from senior Nate Kennell.
Junior forward Michael Diggins led the Flames in scoring with a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double.
Likely the biggest news of the night for UIC was the return of last year’s leading scorer, senior guard Tarkus Ferguson, who missed the first three games of the season due to a team suspension. Ferguson dropped 22 points and 10 assists in last year’s 71-70 UIC win over Bradley on Nov. 17.
In Saturday night’s rematch, Ferguson wasn’t as successful, as Bradley’s defense held him to 10 points and three assists.
“It was all a team effort, getting in gaps on [Ferguson], not letting him drive and just having a hand on him when he shot,” Childs said.
In a game that saw seven ties, five lead changes and plenty of adversity for the Braves, Wardle believed there is a lot to be gained going into the rest of the season.
“Winning and learning is the best,” Wardle said. “We’ll clean up the offense and we’ll shoot the ball better, but it was good to get one of these wins under their belt.”
Bradley hosts Norfolk State at 6 Tuesday night at Carver Arena.