With the program’s all-time scoring leader and former NBA guard Hersey Hawkins seated courtside, Bradley’s senior guards Nate Kennell and Darrell Brown lifted the team to a 70-61 victory over Radford Friday night.
It was evident Kennell was dialed-in from tip-off, scoring the team’s first seven points of the game and didn’t miss a shot in the first half, going 4-4 to help the Braves get out to a 37-27 halftime lead.
“You hit three in a row, things just start clicking,” Kennell said. “It was just one of those nights.”
The Braves stayed hot early in the second half and extended the lead to 17 with 9:41 to play. However, the Highlanders clawed their way back into the game down the stretch, and eventually cut Bradley’s lead to just five points at the three-minute mark, rendering the crowd of 5,167 silent.
With 1:54 left to go, Brown stepped up for the Braves and drained the team’s first field goal in two minutes and 54 seconds: an NBA range 3-pointer that extended Bradley’s lead back to eight, 67-59.
“I hit Nate, and Nate sold it with a pump fake, and they had to jump because he had been making shots all game,” Brown said. “I just relocated, and I know [Nate] is gonna find me. So he found me at one of the biggest times of the game and I finally made a shot.”
Brown went on to knock down three free throws in the closing seconds to ice the Braves’ fourth straight win.
“Our two senior guards were huge for us,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said. “They made timely shots for us in the second half … Darrell’s got a ton of experience, so that moment doesn’t rattle him at all, and he knows he can close the game out. He’s done it in his career, and he did it tonight for us.”
The victory marked the Braves third game in six days, something that affected the team’s second-half stretch where Radford came back.
“No excuses or anything, but we’ve been playing a tough schedule lately,” Brown said. ”I think a couple guys got tired. I know for sure I was kind of winded out there…I think that was a testament to how mentally-strong we are.”
The Braves filled the bucket at a 49 percent clip, including 33 percent from beyond the arc, their best shooting game of the season.
“It was good to see the ball go in a little bit,” Wardle said. “We had some great looks at [3-pointers] from our good shooters, so that’s what we want to continue to have.”
“That’s just the way basketball is, some nights you can’t make a shot and some nights you can’t miss a shot,” Kennell said.
Kennell finished with 20 total points, going 8-13 from the field and 4-6 from beyond the arc. The performance is his highest point total since Feb. 27 versus Valparaiso last season. Brown posted 14 points to go with five assists, continuing his streak of dishing out at least five every game this season. Junior Elijah Childs led the Braves in rebounds, pulling down 12 while scoring six points, his lowest offensive output of the season.
After an undefeated four-game homestand, the Braves will travel to Fort Myers, Florida on Saturday ahead of their game Monday with Northwestern. The Braves will play again on Wednesday, taking on either Pittsburgh or Kansas State, pending Monday’s tournament results.
“Three games in six days is hard, this early in the year, and we’ve got more coming up, so we need to be smart with our rest,” Wardle said. “It’s November, and we don’t want to be peaking right now”
According to perhaps the most seasoned basketball veteran in the arena, the Braves pass the eye test.
“You can look at a team and tell if they enjoy playing together or if they have fun, and this group really seems to like one another, they play for one another, and that’s a unique combination to have,” Hawkins said after the game. “Normally, when you have that, it leads to a successful year, so hopefully they’ll just continue to do that and get better and make strides and get this thing back to the NCAA Tournament.”
The neutral site tip-off between in-state competitors Northwestern and Bradley is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Monday.