The Bradley men’s basketball team started the Missouri Valley Conference season slow. Why would they start the first game of Arch Madness any different?
After struggling in the first half and being down as many as eight points, the Braves did exactly what they had at the end of the regular season: they finished strong.
In the first stanza, Missouri State converted on 6-of-14 3-point attempts. However, Bradley protected the paint. They played sufficient defense and held Missouri State’s leading scorer, Tulio Da Silva, scoreless for the first 27 minutes of play.
Only four Braves scored in the first half. The first 20 minutes of play progressed slowly and Missouri State played their meticulous, run-the-clock down style.
At halftime, the score favored the Bears, 29-22. But this did not deter the Braves. They could have thrown in the towel on the season after starting conference 0-5. They could have done the same after being down by seven at the half.
But once again, they came out of the locker room and took the arena by surprise.
Bradley came out of the locker room energized. Leading the charge was sophomore Elijah Childs who played limited minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls, including a technical. Childs had no points after the first 20 minutes of play.
Freshman forward Ja’Shon Henry surprisingly brought the intensity. He scored six of his eight points in the first including a huge dunk after a pass from junior Koch Bar in the second half.
“It was tremendous [to throw down the dunk] playing in this atmosphere,” Henry said. “In this gym with this group of guys is truly amazing. Just with Koch making that drop off pass and being able to flush it down was such a great feeling.”
It was a big game for someone who had never played in an MVC tournament game before, but Henry was the perfect one to step in as a substitution. The energy he brought throughout the game allowed the Braves to overcome Missouri State’s dominant tempo and speed up the pace in the second half.
“That [scoring punch and defensive effort] just starts with practice honesty, and coach always preaches to me to be ready to step up anytime in any moment of the game,” Henry said.
Missouri State continued to make runs but Bradley responded to each. After the first tie with 14:53 remaining, Missouri State could not push a lead to more than four points.
Senior Luqman Lundy said he knew the importance of staying the course and knew that Bradley got going eventually.
“Basketball is a game of runs, we made our runs at the beginning of the half,” Lundy said.
Bradley took its first lead of the contest with 12:19 remaining on an Elijah Childs free throw. In the second half, he was much more energized and fierce and even knocked down a 3-pointer. This season he was 22 percent from beyond the arc.
In the half, the Braves got contributions from the whole team, as six players scored. That depth has and will be key the rest of the way for Bradley. The Braves have shown they can continue to battle even when they are down.
“We have been a team where sometimes we start off slow but we always finish strong and rally together and make big plays,” Henry said. “We just need to refocus and come ready to play tomorrow.”
In a game where toughness and tempo are key, rest and rejuvenation are also important.
“I’m about to go to sleep right after this,” Lundy said.
The energy Bradley brought coming out of the locker will have to be present tomorrow against the top-seeded Loyola Ramblers. The Braves will look to avenge their 62-54 loss that came at the hands of the Ramblers last year in Arch Madness.