Bradley (6-6) left little doubt in an 87-61 win over Sam Houston State (4-8) in the first game of Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational on Tuesday night. Despite the loss of Ja’Shon Henry, who did not play due to a head injury, the Braves boasted a 39-28 advantage at halftime and held the Bearkats to a 33 percent field goal percentage in the second half en route to their fifth victory in the last six games.
WHO: Junior guard Terry Roberts spearheaded the Braves’ offense with 23 points, one shy of his season-high of 24 points at Bradley’s other in-season tournament, the Paradise Jam. Ville Tahvanainen also knocked down a trio of triples in the span of 75 seconds late in the second half to put Bradley ahead by nearly 40. The junior guard from Finland and junior forward Malevy Leons both added 15 points.
Savion Flagg led Sam Houston State with 16 points while Tristan Ikpe joined him in double figures with 10. Just three Bearkats converted more than two shots from the field.
WHAT: Bradley never trailed after falling behind 3-2 just over a minute into the contest. The Braves moved the ball well and found open shots all game long, leading to 14 assists on 28 made field goals.
Bradley made 20 of their 25 free throws, the exact same mark that it put up in their most recent game against Saint Joseph’s; a 77-73 win on Dec. 18. The Braves also tied their season high for made 3 pointers with 11, including five from Tahvanainen. Sam Houston State didn’t fare as well, shooting 5-21 from deep.
WHERE: The game kicked off the Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational in El Paso, Texas, the furthest distance from Peoria that Bradley is scheduled to travel for the remainder of the regular season.
2021 marks the 60th edition of the Sun Bowl Invitational, one of the longest standing college basketball holiday tournaments in the nation. Last year’s champion, UTEP, is in the field again attempting to defend their 2020 title.
WHEN: The first 10 minutes of the contest were the most competitive, as Bradley’s lead was slimmed to 21-20 at 6:53 of the first half on a layup from Bearkats guard Javon Grant. The Braves responded with an 11-2 run in the next three minutes to regain control.
After leading 39-28 at the halftime break, the Red and White overpowered the Bearkats on both ends in the second half, outscoring them 48-26 before Sam Houston State went on a 7-0 run to end the contest with Bradley’s reserves on the court.
Bradley went on a 15-5 run that spanned both halves and added a 10-0 run midway through the second half to eliminate any chance of a Bearkats comeback. The Braves’ biggest lead came after Tahvanainen’s fifth three of the night to make the score 82-43 with four and a half minutes remaining.
WHY: Bradley head coach Brian Wardle on what helped Bradley build a large lead: “I thought after the first five or six minutes, we settled in and took care of the ball a little bit better,” Wardle said. “We got a little more comfortable, the ball started to move quicker and faster and we started obviously to knock down some shots and knock down some threes, which opened the floor up for our guys to slash and get to the rim more in the second half.”
Wardle on who stepped up: “It was great to see Ville [Tahvanainen] out there to get going and the guys really picked everything up with Ja’Shon Henry being out.”
Wardle on why the team has made recent strides: “We’re trying to cut back on our turnovers and fouling, that’s been our big thing this year. We still can clean up our turnovers obviously…[but] winning the free throw war was big so it was a good win that way.”
Wardle on the possibility of winning the Sun Bowl Invitational: “It would mean a lot to our newcomers. We got a lot of newcomers that haven’t won a trophy yet at this level. My veterans have but we have not won a trophy with our newcomers and any time you have an opportunity to play back to back games, it helps you get ready for Arch Madness.”
Bradley will take on UTEP Wednesday night at 6 p.m. in the championship game of the Sun Bowl Invitational.