Perhaps the final result wasn’t entirely surprising. Milwaukee’s 65-60 win over Bradley came on the heels of a solid triumph over Ball State, and the Panthers appear ready to overachieve their seventh-place ranking in the Horizon League preseason poll.
What was surprising was the matter in which it played out.
The Braves ended the first quarter with a 12-11 lead, keyed in large part by a balanced attack that saw five players enter the scoring column. Bre Cera and Kendall Nead led the way for the Panthers, chipping in five and four points, respectively.
And that resembled pretty much nothing that followed.
Far and away, the biggest change after the teams found their footing was free throw shooting. Milwaukee shot one free throw in the first quarter – a miss – and then shot 28 over the ensuing three quarters.
Led in large part by Morton native Brandi Bisping, who finished the evening with a 12-14 mark at the charity stripe and scored 20 points overall, the Panthers converted on 23 of their 29 free throws in the victory.
“They’re a good free-throw shooting team,” Bradley head coach Andrea Gorski said. “And we’ve gotta be more disciplined on defense for sure. You can’t send a good free-throw shooting team to the line… it just kind of plays in their hands when you do that.”
Bisping’s homecoming was spoiled a bit by the restrictions on fan attendance at Renaissance Coliseum, but the former Potter was quick to credit her supporters from her hometown.
“This is definitely not the homecoming that I thought it was going to be,” Bisping said. “But I know that I have a great support system around me in Morton and they made me who I am. This, whether it was going to be good or bad, it was going to be 100% effort and it was going to be for them.”
It was a slow-paced game, with a total of 52 fouls limiting either side’s ability to mount a run. It was Milwaukee who found the ability to create momentum when it mattered, as the Panthers flipped a 46-40 deficit with 8:55 to play in the fourth quarter into a 58-51 lead with 2:30 to play.
“We couldn’t string those [scoring possessions] together,” Gorski said. “It was like, we’d score, they’d go down, we’d foul, and there’s the momentum killer… when we were able to get a good bucket or run our offense, [there] was a momentum killer for us on the other end.”
Until the Panthers’ late run, the Braves had led for the majority of the game. It remained close late, but Bradley was unable to overcome Milwaukee’s poised efforts at the line.
Obviously, Milwaukee’s success at the stripe wound up depleting the Braves roster by the end of the game. Seniors Gabi Haack, Nyjah White and sophomore Mahri Petree all fouled out, leaving the Braves shorthanded at the end of the final frame. Junior Tatum Koenig and sophomore Veronika Roberts finished the game with four fouls and thus were limited in their ability to attack late.
“We were out of sorts with the foul trouble a little bit, but we’ve got to be able to execute when we get in these types of situations and we didn’t.”
The Braves were able to enjoy a few bright spots during the game. Junior Lasha Petree bounced back from a lower body injury suffered against Kansas City to lead all scorers with 23 points, passing current assistant coach Leti Lerma and tying Joan Jolley for 25th on Bradley’s all-time scoring list.
Bradley’s freshmen also continued their solid starts. Tete Danso tallied seven rebounds, second to Haack’s eight, and Isis Fitch showed poise in attacking the basket in crucial moments late in the fourth.
The 1-1 Braves now turn to their first road game of the season: at Wright State on Wednesday night. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3, though no time has been announced yet.