The Braves had a chip on their shoulders when they beat Loyola 53-51 today. Loyola beat the Braves 81-68 in the last regular season game on March 2. Loyola beat Bradley in last year’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, 62-54.
The Braves were always trying to upset the Ramblers and they had to beat the same team that went to the NCAA Final Four last season. This was the challenge.
This was more than just a typical semifinal.
When the halftime buzzer sounded and Bradley led by three, everyone knew this was not the same Bradley team seen in Chicago on March 2.
Bradley isn’t the most flashy scoring team, in fact, they struggled during the game. It didn’t really matter though. Scoring wasn’t what defined the game.
The hustle plays, players diving for the ball, jumping out of bounds to get steals, rotating over for a block party and grabbing 13 offensive rebounds separated the Braves from the Ramblers.
Yesterday’s game against Missouri State and today’s game against Loyola were all about those plays, the ones that can swing the momentum of the game. Bradley head coach Brian Wardle had been stressing the importance of these all season.
Both of Bradley’s wins in the tournament were decided by three or fewer points. When those plays finally showed up, the Braves were ready to be on the winning side and executed.
Look at the last play of the semifinal win: It was a missed shot and a tough rebound by Ja’Shon Henry, who fell to the floor and held onto it until the buzzer sounded.
Those are the plays that are defining the Braves. It doesn’t take a 30-point performance from one player; it only takes one or two game-defining plays to succeed.
Darrell Brown said it best when he said the key to success was to, “Do whatever it takes to win the game.” It doesn’t have to be a dominating or pretty win. A W is a W.
Holding the Ramblers three best players to a combined 25 points was one challenge and the Braves checked that off their list.
Bradley wasn’t the favorites. They were the underdogs to the team that had put them down repeatedly. They wanted an upset. It was one more thing to check off. And they check it.
They hadn’t been to a MVC championship since 2006 and, in the back of their minds, they knew they wanted to check it. After starting 0-5 at the beginning of the conference season, it seemed like an afterthought. But they pulled out their pens and checked it.
Now, it’s time for one more item on the list so don’t count the Braves out. They might tough it out enough to pull one more out for the crown.