Consistency is a buzzword in Bradley head coach Brian Wardle’s post game press conferences. Following a 70-62 win over Southern Illinois at Carver Arena on Saturday night, signifying back-to-back MVC wins for the first time this season, the Braves’ head man feels as if his team is starting to find that consistency.
“We have found a little more consistency, more consistently,” Wardle said with a laugh. “That’s what you want. Consistency is really, really important.”
The victory boosts BU’s record in MVC play to 4-4, reaching the .500 mark after a 1-3 start.
Fittingly, the results were consistent for most of the evening for the Braves they never trailed, cruising to a comfortable victory for the second consecutive contest.
The start of the game set the tone as Bradley raced out to an 11-2 lead in the opening minutes of the contest, led by seven points from sophomore forward Rienk Mast. After an SIU timeout at the 16:35 mark, the Braves grew the lead to 17-7 with back-to-back layups from junior guard Terry Roberts.
“[Our start] happened because we got stops, and then I don’t think we got a stop the rest of the half, it felt like,” Wardle said. “We didn’t really defend great after the first five minutes of the first half.”
The rest of the half was closer-contested, as Saluki guard Lance Jones heated up and poured in 14 first-half points, helping trim the BU lead down to one point twice in the final three minutes of the frame.
Despite the SIU surge, the Braves entered the halftime break ahead by two possessions, 38-34.
“I think the first half was an offensive show by both teams,” Wardle said. “I don’t know if either head coach would probably be happy with their defense at halftime.”
Much like the opening frame, Bradley started the second half hot with a 13-3 run to push the lead back to double digits.
Under the 10 minute mark, the Braves grew the lead to 13 points, their largest of the night, first with a Tahvanainen three at the 8:28 mark.
After an SIU response, senior center Ari Boya pushed the lead back to 13 with a two-handed alley-oop finish off a feed from Connor Hickman with 6:57 to go, which sent the Carver Arena crowd of 3,987 into a frenzy.
Boya finished the game with six points and six rebounds, playing key minutes when Mast found himself on the bench with three fouls in the second half. The effort marks back-to-back impact games for the 7-footer off the bench, something his teammates are thrilled to see.
“That was a big spark for us,” Mast said of Boya. “That’s one of my guys… I love him. I’m really happy that he can add that to us.”
“He’s just been going hard every single time he’s stepped on the floor in practice, and it’s showing in the games,” Roberts said. “He’s showing hard work pays off.”
Despite the 13-point deficit, the Salukis didn’t go away easy, as they held the Braves without a bucket for over three minutes – from the 4:55 mark to the 1:38 mark of the second half – allowing the Dogs to slim the lead to 7 points with 1:18 remaining.
However, it was barely enough to make the Braves sweat, as SIU resorted to fouling and the Braves iced out the victory at the free throw line, going 6-8 at the stripe in the final two minutes.
The Braves were led by a 20-point, nine rebound performance from Mast, his fifth consecutive game scoring at least 17 points.
Roberts followed close behind with 18 points, in addition to seven assists and six rebounds. 13 of Roberts’ 18 points came in the first half, but Wardle was impressed with his point guard’s play in the second half with increased defensive pressure from the Salukis.
“Terry, I thought, really distributed the ball well in the second half,” Wardle said. “They keyed in on him in the second, and he did what good point guards do – distribute the ball.”
Tahvanainen was the third Brave in double figures, scoring 13 points, including three 3-pointers.
On the other side of the box score, Bradley was able to quiet Jones after his big first half, limiting him to five second half points.
“One of the main topics during halftime was we’ve got to build a wall and show [Jones] three guys, so he doesn’t go to the rim in transition,” Mast said of the defensive strategy on Jones, who led SIU with 19 points. “I think we did a little better job contesting him in the second half.”
The Salukis’ leading scorer Marcus Domask found double figures with 14, but was limited to 4-10 shooting from the floor and no 3-pointers.
Bradley will return to action on Wednesday night for a 6 p.m. road contest at Valparaiso, where the Braves will search for their third three game win streak of the season.
But for Wardle and company, the focus remains on continuing to find that consistency each and every day.
“You lose a game, you can be intense for two days and win a game, because you’re motivated after that loss,” Wardle said. “Consistency is more based on inspiration – like, you’ve got to be inspired to be connected, play for each other, protect each other every night… That’s how you go on winning streaks. We don’t have many in that locker room who have been on winning streaks, other than [Ja’Shon Henry] or [Tahvanainen]… So we’re trying to continue learning how to do that. Everyone in there wants to do it, but they know it’s gonna take a lot of hard work.”