Following a narrow win and a narrow loss to start the season at the Xavier Invitational, Bradley never trailed Oakland on Friday afternoon and cruised to a 74-60 victory over the Golden Grizzlies.
The Braves received a balanced effort, as 10 of 11 players who checked into the game scored at least once.
Notably missing, though, was junior forward and key bench piece Ja’Shon Henry, who sat out with a non-COVID-19 related illness. As a result, head coach Brian Wardle called upon freshman forward Darius Hannah, who responded with an impressive 12 point, eight rebound performance in 19 minutes of play.
“All the coaches told me, ‘Ja’Shon’s sick, be ready to play,’” Hannah said. “I had the jitters at first.”
Those jitters didn’t show in the box score, as the 6-foot, 8-inch Milwaukee native shot 6-7 from the floor, including two thunderous dunks over Oakland defenders.
“I love our freshman class,” Wardle said. “I think they’re all going to be very good. They’re just behind some players with a little more experience right now, veterans, who they’re learning from. But Darius showed his head coach, ‘I want to play more’ … I think we’re going to have to find him some minutes after that performance.”
One of those veterans had a big game in his own right.
Senior Elijah Childs posted his first double-double of the season, scoring 16 points to pair with 10 rebounds, six assists and three blocks to lead Bradley in all four categories.
According to Hannah, the precedent of high-level play set by Childs in practice and games was a contributing factor to his early success as a rookie.
“He’s been on me every day,” Hannah said. “He talks to me, walks me through stuff, we workout together a lot and he’s just… had my back and prepared me for what I need to be prepared for.”
After slow starts during the first two games of the season, the Braves came flying out of the gate in the first half against the Golden Grizzlies, shooting 58 percent on their way to a 43-28 lead at the break.
In the first half against Xavier and Toledo, Bradley scored a combined 40 points.
In the second half, Oakland cut the lead to as close as 11 points at the 6:51 mark but were unable to mount a comeback closer than that.
“For a third game in three days and for the wars we’ve had the last two days [I’m] just very, very proud of how we came out and built a little bit of a lead and held it and closed it out,” Wardle said.
The Braves finish the Xavier Invite with a 2-1 record. Following the conclusion of the tournament, Childs and junior guard Terry Nolan Jr. were named to the All-Tournament team. Childs averaged 15.7 points across the three contests, while Nolan posted an average of 8 points in his first games as a Brave, including the game winning layup over Toledo.
After the first three games of the campaign, Wardle is happy with the early success but said there’s no shortage of things to work on.
“We can learn a lot from this week,” Wardle said. “Our goal was to come in here and get a couple of wins, maybe three wins, we thought we had a great chance to do that but we let one slip away … We’ve got to improve a lot.”
Bradley will return to Peoria for a five game home stretch, starting on Dec. 1 against NAIA opponent Judson.
Following Friday’s breakout performance, at least one Brave is already chomping at the bit to get back on the floor on Tuesday.
“I love it, I’m ready for more,” Hannah said. “We’re hungry. I’m just glad I had the opportunity, and I’m glad I’m surrounded by these great players and this great team.”