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Mast’s career day helps Braves extinguish Flames

Rienk Mast tries to block a UNI shot. Photo by Jenna Zeise.

Bradley men’s basketball had some frustrations to release after their three-point loss at Belmont.

Unfortunately for Illinois-Chicago (UIC), they became the victims of a 79-45 thrashing from the Braves (10-5, 3-1 MVC) on Saturday at Carver Arena, one that featured a first-half double-double and a career-high 17 rebounds from junior forward Rienk Mast.

“Honestly, I didn’t even realize during the game,” Mast said. “You just grab everything that comes off the rim and you keep doing that, essentially the numbers just keep going up. It’s not something that I have as a goal going into the game, it’s more everything that comes off the rim should be mine and that’s always been my mindset.”

The Bradley defense held the Flames (9-6, 1-3 MVC) to under 30 percent shooting in their MVC-leading 15th straight win at home, including a 1-18 mark from three. Mast’s 11-point, 10-rebound effort at halftime got the home team out to a big lead and they never looked back.

“I thought [Rienk] came out really aggressive,” head coach Brian Wardle said. “And you can see we finished better around the rim this game. That was a point of emphasis after our Belmont loss.”

After UIC got on the board first, it only took layups from sophomore guards Connor Hickman and Zek Montgomery for Bradley to take their first lead, which they never relinquished. A Ja’Shon Henry 10-foot finish with 13:31 to go started a 31-7 Bradley run to end the half.

“It starts in practice,” the fifth-year Henry said. “I feel like we had a good week of practice preparing for this game, I thought our whole team was really locked in and ready to go.”

UIC shot just 4-28 from the field in the first period, including 1-19 in their final 19 shots and 0-12 from beyond the arc. The Braves started 0-5 from three themselves, until junior guard Duke Deen got back into shooting form with a trey to make it 21-7 at the 7:19 mark. Before that make, all 18 of Bradley’s points were in the paint.

The Flames finally got to double digits with 4:57 left on the clock thanks to a Cameron Fens and-1, but back-to-back threes from Mast and Hickman two minutes later made it 34-11 Braves. The home team ended the half with a boom, drawing up an alley-oop to Henry off an inbound play to take a 39-13 lead into the locker room.

“That makes the game so much easier,” Mast said about the first-half lead. “That comes mostly from defense and then the transition offense.”

It was a back-and-forth affair to start the second half, as UIC already outscored their first half total with 11:17 to go. They didn’t take their first three of the frame until halfway through and didn’t make their only long-ball until there was just 3:26 to play.

“When you’re up big at half, you talk to your team about the only way they can come back is literally 3-point line,” Wardle said. “We wanted to just take away the 3-point line on them in the second half and I thought we did a good job of that.”

Deen hit another of his game-high four 3-pointers with 4:49 to play then hit another from way downtown just 30 seconds later, giving the Braves a 77-36 lead – their largest of the game.

After all was said and done, the Braves had five double-digit scorers and another conference victory.

“I liked how we came out with a chip on our shoulder after last game,” Wardle said. “I know they were frustrated that we gave that one away, so they came out and I thought defensively we really locked into the game plan, we guarded with a lot of discipline, we had great talk. It was just the overall team effort.”

Deen had a team-high 14 points, just in front of Mast’s and Henry’s 13. Senior guard Ville Tahvanainen added 11, despite only making one 3-pointer. Bradley shot over 50 percent from the field, something that is key in a lot of their wins this season.

“We’ve got to continue to get better, continue to learn and grow together,” Wardle said. “We’ll see how this all plays out but I like where we’re at.”

The Braves will go on the road again to take on their third straight MVC newcomer in Murray State on Jan. 4.

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