Coming off a sweep of the SoCal Challenge, Bradley men’s basketball beat Vermont 79-70 on Saturday night to continue a historic start to their season.
With the win, the Braves (6-0) matched their best start since 1985-86, when the team had an undefeated conference record and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. This time around, they achieved it by beating the Catamounts (5-2), who were chosen to win their third straight America East title in preseason polls.
Senior forward Darius Hannah led the Braves with a career-high 17 points, also adding six rebounds and two steals. Senior forward Malevy Leons and junior guard Connor Hickman also scored in double figures, contributing 16 and 14, respectively. Leons added seven rebounds while Hickman dished out six assists.
Bradley gave away a season-low of eight turnovers in the win and shot a season-high 88% from the free throw line, something that gave them trouble in their last two games at home. They also forced Vermont into a season-high 12 turnovers, and the Braves’ 79 points were the most the Catamounts have given up all year.
Vermont, who came into the game shooting over 50% from the field and nearly 40% from three, managed to shoot just 42% at Carver Arena. They did make 11 threes thanks to leading scorer Matt Veretto (23 points) shooting 6-10 from downtown.
The game was a back-and-forth affair until a Hickman three gave Bradley an early 11-6 lead. The Braves rode this lead for five minutes, eventually growing it to 10 off back-to-back 3-pointers from freshmen Almar Atlason and Demarion Burch, who finished with six and nine points, respectively.
Then came the Catamounts. Vermont ripped off a 13-0 run to take the lead with 5:17 to go as the Braves were in the midst of a three-minute scoring slump. A jumper by senior guard Duke Deen ended that stretch, and a three by Leons on the next possession gave Bradley the lead again.
With the first half coming to its end, threes from Atlason and Hickman once again stretched the Bradley lead, and they went into the locker room up 35-29. The Braves made eight of their nine threes in the first half, shooting 50% from downtown.
Coming out of the break, Bradley needed to rely on other aspects of their offense to score, as they shot just 1-7 from beyond the arc in the second frame. Vermont brought the Braves’ lead to as little as one early on, but Bradley went on a 23-5 run over the next 12 minutes to take a 20-point lead late in the game. To achieve their largest lead, the Braves used a combination of free throws and scores in the paint, also holding Vermont to 1-16 shooting during the run.
The Catamounts tried to mount a comeback with four minutes to go, knocking down threes on four straight possessions to cut the lead to 10. Vermont shot a perfect 6-6 from the field to end the game, but it wasn’t enough as the Braves won 79-70.
Bradley now moves on to the first installment of conference play, as they head to Murray State on Wednesday to take on the 2-3 Racers.