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Closing seconds crush Braves’ upset attempt at No. 14 Missouri

Bradley couldn’t hang on after leading No. 14 Missouri by as many as eight points with under four minutes to play on Tuesday night and fell 54-53 at Mizzou Arena. 

Following a missed free throw by freshman Jayson Kent with 10 seconds remaining and the Braves up 53-51, Mizzou senior Jeremiah Tilmon cashed in on a game tying layup and was fouled with a second remaining. Tilmon converted the three point play to keep the Tigers undefeated and hand Bradley its third loss of the season. 

The game winner capped off a 12-3 Mizzou run to finish the game. 

“We know we should’ve pulled this one out,” senior forward Elijah Childs said. “We let another one slip through our hands and that’s on us.” 

The defeat marks the Braves’ second one-point loss of the season against a nationally-ranked and undefeated team. On Nov. 28, Bradley fell 51-50 to now-No. 22 Xavier (8-0). 

“There are no moral victories,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said. “We totally expected to win that game. One point loss, one point win, a win is a win and a loss is a loss.” 

Defense dominated the matchup from start to finish, as the two teams started the game a combined 3-17 from the field. After the slow start, the Tigers clung to a 21-19 lead at halftime. 

Bradley set the tone to start the closing frame starting with a 6-0 run, sending the game into a back-and-forth battle that saw 9 lead changes before the 12:23 mark. From that point until Tilmon’s game winning shot, the Braves held the lead. 

“You’ve just got to close the deal out and execute a little bit better,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said. “It’s a game of execution in a possession [by] possession game like that… It comes down to the little things. Give them credit, they made the big plays in the last two-three minutes and we did not.”

Free throws cost the Braves, as the team went 5-10 at the stripe, including two misses in the final two and a half minutes. Mizzou, on the other hand, shot 19-26 at the line. 

While Kent’s miss in the final moments was costly, the freshman gave the team a much needed spark off the bench. 

Before the game, it was announced that junior guard and third-leading scorer Terry Nolan would be out for two to three weeks after having his appendix removed on Sunday. As a result of Nolan’s absence and foul trouble, Kent received increased minutes off the bench and capitalized. 

In four first half minutes, the Oak Forest, Illinois native scored four points and four rebounds. In the second half, Kent scored seven straight Bradley points starting at the 13:16 mark, including one of the Braves’ two 3-point makes on the night. 

“I expect that from Jayson,” Childs said. “He was ready tonight, the team knew he was ready, I knew he was ready and it’s just no surprise … I’m really happy for him.” 

Kent finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, behind Childs’ 13 point, 10 rebound double-double, his second of the season. The duo were the only two Braves in double-figures.

The defensive effort was one that Mizzou hasn’t seen in years, however. The Tigers’ 54 points are the fewest scored in a win since they beat Princeton 51-48 on Nov. 12, 1999. Entering the matchup, the team’s season-low point total was 69. 

Despite the heartbreaking loss in his home state, the Kansas City native Childs isn’t totally displeased with the effort. 

“I think we shocked the world today, in that we can play with anybody,” Childs said. “I feel like if we just learn how to close out games and execute a little bit better… the sky’s the limit.” 

Following the loss, the Braves, now 6-3, found out they have to wait a while longer before its next game, as its Missouri Valley Conference-opening series with Valparaiso has been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns in the Crusaders program. 

Bradley’s next game will come on Jan. 2, as it opens a two-game home series with Valley-favorite Loyola-Chicago. 

For the next eleven days, though, the Braves have to live with tonight’s result; something that could serve as motivation for Childs and company entering conference play. 

“I’m ready to go,” Childs said. “I don’t plan to lose many conference games. So, I just want to get back in the gym and get better.”

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