Following a loss in the team’s season opener on Saturday, Bradley received a much needed dose of veteran presence in a 92-66 victory over DII Missouri S&T on Tuesday night – the Braves’ first of the season.
After missing the first two games of the season with a right foot injury, junior guard Ville Tahvanainen returned to the Braves’ starting lineup alongside senior Ja’Shon Henry, who sat on Saturday with a non-COVID illness.
“I just came in and tried to be confident,” Tahvanainen said. “I tried to show the guys how it’s done, I guess…”
The Finnish junior did just that, turning in 10 points – seven of which in the first four minutes of the contest. Henry showed no signs of rust after missing Saturday’s loss to Howard, leading the team with a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double.
“[Tahvanainen] has composure and poise,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said. “And that’s what experience gives you. You could tell that right away, and it has an effect on other guys, too. So it was nice to have him out there.”
With the victory, Bradley moves to 1-2 ahead of this weekend’s Paradise Jam, which begins with a matchup with Colorado State on Friday in the U.S. Virgin Islands
“You’ve got to schedule some games that you think can maybe help your guys find some rhythm and some timing,” Wardle said. “We’ve got one non-D1 game a year, and this is it. I think it came at the right time for us – we needed to get out there and play again, after our last game, right away.”
The victory wasn’t completely on cruise control, as the Braves ran into some struggles in the first half, encountering a 19-15 deficit with 13:51 to play in the frame. From there, Bradley rattled off a 13-0 run, started by a four-point play by 5th year guard Mikey Howell.
Henry then rattled off dunks on back-to-back possessions, and swatted a 3-point attempt from Miners guard Kevin Legardy on the other side of the floor to put a charge into a Carver Arena crowd that was quiet in the opening minutes of the contest.
The Braves eventually made it four dunks in a row, as junior Malevy Leons and senior Ari Boya chipped in jams, to help propel Bradley to a 49-36 halftime lead.
“All of us were really locked in defensively,” Henry said. “Our style of basketball, we pride ourselves on defense, so that’s what we really wanted to try and execute this game and get our first W, and that’s what we did.”
The defensive prowess shined in the second half, as Bradley held Missouri S&T to just two makes on its first 11 shots of the frame, allowing the deficit to grow into an eventual 26 point victory.
The entire starting five found double figures in the scoring column, as junior guard Terry Robers posted 15 points, Leons recorded 13 and Rienk Mast chipped in 10 and fell one rebound short of his third double-double in the first three games. Sophomore Jayson Kent rounded out the Braves in double-figures, contributing 10 points off the bench.
Entering a Paradise Jam field filled with stout opposition, with a Colorado State squad that is off to a 3-0 start with five returning starters next on the docket, Wardle emphasized the importance of his four most experienced players all back on the floor: Henry, Tahvanainen, Boya and Mast.
“They were all on the court tonight, for the majority of the game, which is going to help us,” Wardle said. “Keeping those guys on the court will be big with these newcomers.”
The Braves’ first victory comes before the team’s schedule picks up the pace, with the Paradise Jam this weekend, Maine on Nov. 27 and Northern Iowa in the MVC opener on Dec. 1 all rapidly approaching.
However, Wardle and company are simply focused on the process of melding the key veterans and newcomers.
“It’s going to be a process with this team and I have to continue to remind myself of that, just to have patience,” Wardle said. “Because, I think, if we can keep tightening up some things and getting better in some areas, we’re going to be just, just fine.”
Bradley tips off against Colorado State at Noon central time on Friday in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.