After a career best 32 points just four nights before, sophomore guard Gabi Haack scored a game- high 23 points against Eastern Illinois to lead the Braves to a 67-64 win on Wednesday.
Bradley and Eastern played a back and forth contest with 12 lead changes. When Grace Lennox brought the Panthers within two points with 1:48 left on the clock the thought of the first overtime contest in Renaissance Coliseum history came to mind.
However, it did not happen this time. Both teams’ defenses stepped up and held each other scoreless until Bradley sophomore guard Jailynn Lawson made a free throw to make it a three-point game with 10 seconds remaining to cap the win.
The Panthers tested Bradley’s guards aggressively with a trapping defense. Eastern pressed the Braves up from the tipoff and finished with 15 team steals. Bradley had 20 turnovers, with 15 coming in the first 20 minutes of play.
Head coach Andrea Gorski went into the locker room fired up and got her team to focus more on ball security. Down for the first time this season at halftime, 29-28, Bradley came out of the locker room ready to flip the script.
Junior forward Chelsea Brackman, who was scoreless in the first half, scored six points in the first three minutes of play. According to Gorski, Bradley was able to figure it out and play together in the second half.
“Having only five turnovers in the second half was key,” Gorski said. “I like how we toughen things out right now. We had a couple injuries and foul trouble, but we didn’t use it as an excuse. We just figured out a way to win and people stepped up.”
Senior guard Shunseere Kent came down hard on her ankle late in the third quarter and was carried off the court. Her injury allowed for third string point guard Jailynn Lawson to play 14 minutes in the second half with only one turnover. Junior combo guard Ryan Wilkins to see nine minutes of turnover free play.
“I thought Lawson came in and played well,” Gorski said. “She is very good against zones and she did a great job. You need that from your point guard play against a trapping zone.”
The Bradley front-court scored 15 of the team’s 23 points in the third quarter. The Braves’ bench found better passing lanes for easier shots in the second half outscoring the Panthers’ bench 27-6.
Haack led the Bradley charge from the opening tip but said she could not have done it without her teammates effective passing.
“Today I just played my game,” Haack said. “If I’m open I will shoot it. Chelsea [Brackman] especially had some good skip passes [to me].”
Gorski was impressed with Haack’s decision making, considering how Eastern focused on their game plan on slowing her down.
“[Eastern Illinois] did a good job not giving [Haack] open threes but she knocked some big ones down for us,” Gorski said. “She made good decisions and saw when they were overplaying her and had to get to the basket.”
Haack took all of her 11 shots except one from beyond the arc knocking down five three pointers. Although Haack did not drive to the basket frequently, she got to the free throw line eight times and sunk all eight.
“I was focusing on just shooting the three, but I know free throws are a big thing.” Haack said. “I know my team depends on me to hit those.”
Underclassmen were given 66 percent of the playing time. According to Gorski, playing a close game gives all players confidence for the future.
“This game showed a lot about our toughness,” Gorski said. “We have to get a little more tough physically but I liked our mental toughness.”
Bradley will continue its three game home stand tomorrow at 1 p.m. against Oakland and close it out Tuesday against Western Illinois at 11 a.m. for the seventh annual Field Trip Day.