For most of Bradley men’s basketball’s game against Miami (Ohio) on Saturday night, it seemed as if the RedHawks couldn’t miss. But in the last four minutes, the Braves defense didn’t surrender a point and finished the game on a 9-0 run to narrowly escape with a 69-68 victory at Carver Arena.
Junior guard Terry Nolan Jr. scored the final four points of the game, including the game-winning dunk with 18.7 seconds remaining, which gave Bradley its first lead since the 10:30 mark in the second half.
“We huddled up after that media timeout [at 4:00], and said ‘look, if we want to win the game we’ve got to buckle down and play some defense,’” Nolan said. “The defense fought back, Ville [Tahvanainen] hit a three, plays transpired… We knew they were kind of denying the guards a little bit, so we just kind of created misdirection, came up, he [the defender] bit for it and went backdoor [for the dunk].”
Despite the game winner, his second of the season, it wasn’t an easy game for Nolan, who missed all four of his shots in the first half. After checking out of the game at the 4:34 mark in the first frame, Nolan was verbally challenged by Braves head coach Brian Wardle.
“It was basically just defense,” Nolan said about the reason behind the exchange. “He thought and felt that we could play better and we know that we can, we can play defense better … He was saying that we’ve got to get locked in for the second half.”
Wardle didn’t divulge the details of the moment, but recognized the significance.
“We’re both passionate guys, we both love to compete,” Wardle said. “Me and him have a great relationship, so that’s never going to be an issue … Then you have faith in your player. I had faith in him in the second half and we went to him at the end and he delivered. That shows how he’s maturing as a player.”
While the Braves defense improved in the final four minutes of the matchup, the RedHawks shooting prevailed in the other 36.
Miami shot 13-26 in the first half, including a staggering 61 percent from 3-point range. In the second half, their shooting from the field didn’t flinch, as the team again shot 50 percent (12-24). This led to Bradley chasing the lead for over 27 minutes of the game.
“In the second half, I give Miami of Ohio credit, I thought our defense was much better,” Wardle said. “But we’ve got to clean it up, because these 3-point shots are going to give me a lot of grey hair if this keeps going.”
While the outside was dominated by the visitors, the Braves capitalized on a size advantage in the paint. Bradley outscored MU 26-18 in the key, and snared 12 offensive rebounds.
As a result, Braves big men found the scoring column at an efficient rate. Junior center Ari Boya scored 10 points on 4-7 shooting, including two finishes through fouls. Senior forward Elijah Childs finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, despite being faced with double teams in the low post.
However, it was sophomore guard Sean East II who led the team with 14 points and five assists.
Down the stretch, Bradley had to look for production from players other than Childs, who left the game because of a left leg injury suffered while slipping on a moist spot on the floor with 3:31 left in the game.
Childs returned to the game for the final seconds, but his official status was unclear postgame.
“Obviously, he got cleared to get put back in,” Wardle said. “I think he’s going to be okay, but I don’t want to say anything on that yet.”
Bradley will wrap up its non-conference slate Tuesday on the road at No. 16 Mizzou, before conference play commences on Dec. 27 at Valparaiso.
“We’re going to have to play a little bit smarter,” Wardle said. “I like our chances. I like this group, I like their competitive spirit and we believe. That’s the biggest part. Our program is at a point now where we step on the floor and expect to win and compete against anyone – even at the level Missouri is playing at right now.”
The Braves, now 6-2, tip off against the 5-0 Tigers at 6 p.m. on Tuesday night.