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Slow start haunts Braves against Loyola-Chicago

Ville Tahvanainen takes a three pointer in a game against Jackson State. Photo by Bradley Athletics.

After stumbling out of the gate against Loyola-Chicago on Sunday afternoon, Bradley couldn’t recover from a 26-point first-half deficit and lost 69-56 at Carver Arena. The loss is the Braves’ second straight after falling by 15 to Illinois State on Wednesday evening. 

The Ramblers jetted out to a 22-2 lead in the opening minutes and the early hole proved to be too much. The Braves cut the deficit to 11 at the 10:04 mark of the second half, but never drew closer. 

“Loyola is an NCAA tournament team, I know they’re good,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said. “I expected them to come out fast and I just thought we would be up for the task to be more aggressive, to be more disciplined and attack them. We just kind of panicked a little bit.” 

Loyola has been on a tear through Missouri Valley Conference play, having won five games in a row, all by double digits. The Ramblers good play, paired with a slow start by the home team, created an unpleasant sensation for Wardle. 

“It can get like a tornado, in a way, and we were definitely in it in the first half,” Wardle said. 

A large part of the destructive Rambler attack was senior center Cameron Krutwig. The 6-foot-9-inch Illinois native picked up 19 points with six rebounds and three assists; contributing a large chunk of Loyola’s whopping 50 points in the paint. 

Krutwig was largely guarded by Bradley redshirt freshman Rienk Mast, who quickly stacked up fouls and played much of the closing stages with four. 

“We let him go to his right shoulder too much and let him drive the ball with his left hand probably too much,” Wardle said of Krutwig. “That’s K.Y.P.; knowing your personnel and tendencies. We’re still not there… Those things last year, we weren’t making mistakes on that and we’re making a lot of mistakes now.”

While some of Bradley’s young players have struggled defensively, they were able to provide a glimmer of hope on offense in the first half. 

In the midst of Loyola’s opening surge, Wardle attempted to quell the damage by digging deep into the team’s bench, inserting freshmen Jayson Kent, Thomas Hall and Connor Linke in the game. 

The three helped Bradley’s offense come to life, moving the team’s point total from two to six with 10 minutes left in the first half. 

“I just don’t think you sit on your rear end as a coach when guys aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do and I think there’s a point where you got to hold guys accountable” Wardle said. “I was proud of that group, I was hoping they could give us a little bit of a boost, wake the guys up a little bit on the bench.” 

That was one of few bright spots for the team on the day, however. The team shot 45 percent from the floor, but struggled from deep, shooting just two for 11. 

Senior Elijah Childs led Bradley with 18 points and eight rebounds – just one point shy of Krutwig, a fellow All-MVC preseason 1st team selection.

“They both made some really good plays, I don’t think one got the better of the other,” Loyola head coach Porter Moser said. “This matchup is about a lot of guys… I don’t think one dominated the other by any stretch of the imagination.” 

The loss drops Bradley to 9-6 overall and 3-3 in MVC play. They’ll have a rematch tomorrow evening at 6 p.m. 

So, how do the Braves move on from another disheartening loss? 

“You can’t really dwell on a loss,” sophomore guard Sean East II said. “You think about it for two, three hours, but we’ve played back to back games [before].”

“Blow that first half up, and maybe we’ll be alright,” Wardle said. “We found five guys that I thought were competing and playing well together. But, we need eight, nine, 10 guys showing up tomorrow.” 

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