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Deen’s list of threes boost Bradley to blowout win

Bradley’s Duke Deen guards against Northern Iowa. Photo by Jenna Zeise

Bradley needed a rebound after a 76-57 loss to Arkansas just over 48 hours prior to their tipoff against Stonehill. In their first game back at Carver Arena since Nov. 30, the Braves didn’t get just one, they got 50. 

To go with it, junior point guard Duke Deen had a season-high 26 points and seven 3-pointers in a 79-50 Bradley victory. Deen’s barrage of threes, which was just one shy of the Bradley single-game record, left no answer from the Skyhawks, who are new to Division I this season.

“I don’t even really know, I was shooting to be honest,” Deen said. “I knew they weren’t going to let me keep shooting but I just had to keep letting it fly.”

The first of the Shreveport, Louisiana native’s triples capped off a 9-0 run by Bradley to open up the game in the first four minutes. A three from sophomore guard Connor Hickman and a three-point play from senior guard Ville Tahvanainen helped the Braves set the tone from the opening tipoff in their wire-to-wire victory.

The Bradley defense prevented the Skyhawks from scoring until nearly five minutes in. An ensuing 9-2 Bradley run, which included Deen’s second trey, put them up 18-5 by the second media timeout.

“Duke got going, it was great to see,” Wardle said. “He was aggressive from the start, set the pace. I thought him and [Connor] Hickman were in attack mode and very aggressive which I think everybody feeds off that.”

“[It was a] quick turnaround, I did not want to lose two in a row, especially not at home,” Deen said. “That was just my mindset: come in and play defensive and not let these guys stick with us.”

Turnovers have been the Achilles’ heel of the Braves in recent games, and it appeared the story would stay the same after they fumbled possession six times in the early going. However, two of the Braves seniors helped provide a calming presence and were weapons off the bench.

Tahvanainen, along with forward Ja’Shon Henry, did what’s typically asked of a team’s senior leaders. The former made a putback off an offensive rebound and Henry identified Stonehill’s weaker post presence and went to work down low, scoring a pair of buckets that helped build a 33-13 Bradley lead at the 6:10 mark in the first half.

Bradley’s Ville Tahvanainen decides what to do with the ball against Northern Iowa. Photo by Jenna Zeise

“We threw him in the game right away off the bench and he came in and got an and-one,” Wardle said of Tahvanainen. “He was just rebounding and doing the little things and we needed that after the Arkansas game. He didn’t have a very good game and I know he wanted to come out and play better this week before Christmas.”

Henry had a 10-point, seven-rebound performance while Tahvanainen came just a few points away from his first double-double at Bradley, adding seven points and a career-high 11 boards.

“Those are good, talented players and they can score,” Wardle said of his bench players.

Stonehill came into the contest leading the Northeastern Conference in 3-point field goal percentage and second in field goal percentage, but had a rough go in the opening frame offensively. The Braves held the Skyhawks to a 27 percent shooting mark in the opening frame and forced them into many contested looks. 

On the glass, Bradley further prevented many Stonehill opportunities by shutting them out in the offensive rebounds department in the first half and allowing just one Skyhawk offensive board the whole night. The Braves won the rebounding battle 50-23, didn’t allow a second chance point and held the Skyhawks to 19 percent shooting from long range.

“I would say one of the keys to the game was clean switches and guarding their threes,” Wardle said. “I felt like if they could catch us at our place, it’d be hitting a bunch of threes. We did a great job of guarding the threes and crashing the glass.”

Junior forward Rienk Mast helped the cause with a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double, his second of the season in six games.

The visitors got a smell of momentum late in the first half after a flagrant foul on Bradley junior forward Darius Hannah sparked a 6-0 Skyhawk run to bring them within 14. The Braves responded by pounding their opponent down low with layups from Henry, Hickman and Mast in succession to go up 40-19 right before the half.

Stonehill came out of the locker room attacking the paint on a 6-1 run, prompting a timeout from Wardle on the Bradley sideline. From that moment on, Deen went into takeover mode.

Bradley’s Duke Deen prepares to shoot against Northern Iowa at Carver Arena. Photo by Jenna Zeise

“They were going under [the screens] at first and I had to be aggressive and shoot the open shots,” Deen said. “Coach [Wardle] always tells me to shoot the open shots no matter if they go under or over. If it’s a good shot, take it. You’d rather shoot it than turn it over.”

It turned out that Deen would find lots of good shots from behind the arc, including one at the top of the key that stopped the Skyhawks half-opening run and put the Braves up 44-28. The junior sank another pair from deep before the midway mark in the second half, helping the Braves’ lead burgeon back up to 20.

Deen buried his seventh and final 3-pointer at the 7:20 mark of the second when the game was all but out of reach. That shot started a 15-0 run for the Braves that lasted nearly four and a half minutes. Leons and Mast also made a deep ball each during the run to help Bradley to an 8-15 mark from behind the arc in the second half. 

The 26 points from the Bradley point guard were his most since his days at Panola College as a freshman in 2020-21, where he put up 30-plus on multiple occasions.

“I didn’t know [about being close to the single-game 3-pointer record] I just played ball,” Deen said about his shooting performance.

The Braves move to 8-4 on the year and have now held six of their last seven opponents to under 55 points. Up next is a home clash on Thursday with the Akron Zips (7-4), who are favored to be one of the best teams in the Mid-American Conference this year.

Call it a Deen demolition, a defensive smackdown or a sweet return home, but Monday’s victory was nearly the textbook definition of Bradley basketball at its finest.

“[We came into it] more determined,” Mast said. “Honestly, this was a really important game for us. We can’t lose two in a row this season.”

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