Bradley rallied from an 18-point second-half deficit to stun Northern Iowa on Sunday as the Braves earned the Missouri Valley Conference’s autobid with a stunning 57-54 win.
The Braves trailed by 12 at halftime as they only mustered 15 points of offense before getting hot and rallying quickly in the second half. Down 35-17 with 17 minutes left, Bradley made a furious comeback (a common theme for them this season) behind a balanced scoring effort.
Sophomore forward Elijah Childs paced the Bradley offense with 16 points while senior guard Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye (13 points) and senior guard Luqman Lundy (11 points) also finished in double-figures. Bradley was able to rally and win despite a poor offensive night from junior guard Darrell Brown — the team’s All-MVC player. Brown was only 3-for-10 from the floor to finish with seven points, yet the Braves still found a way to win and advance to the dance.
After knocking out No. 1 seed Loyola in the semifinals and rallying to beat Northern Iowa, Bradley is playing with a lot of confidence heading into the NCAA tournament.
CONFERENCE: Missouri Valley Conference
COACH: Brian Wardle
RECORD: 20-14, 9-9 Missouri Valley Conference
PROJECTED SEED: Missouri Valley top seed Loyola was previously projected as a No. 15 seed in our latest bracket and Bradley finished below them in both the conference standing and most major metrics. That means we could be seeing a very dangerous No. 16 seed come from a historically-proud basketball conference if the right teams in other one-bid leagues keep winning.
NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Junior guard Darrell Brown (14.9 ppg, 3.1 apg, 44% 3PT) is the heart-and-soul of the Braves as he’s earned back-to-back All-MVC honors. Sophomore forward Elijah Childs (12.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg) is the team’s top interior presence. Junior Nate Kennell (9.5 ppg, 39% 3PT) and senior Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye (8.5 ppg, 40% 3PT) are upperclass veterans on the perimeter who can both light it up from three-point range.
BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: Bradley didn’t play a particularly tough non-conference schedule but they did pick up a Q1 win by beating Penn State on a neutral floor — the only Q1 game they’ve played all season. The Braves have also been inconsistent at times this season, as evidenced by a very mediocre 7-4 record against Q4 opponents — including a very bad loss to Eastern Illinois (309).
STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Bradley has trailed at halftime and come back to win eight times this season as they’ve shown tremendous resiliency. Three-point shooting will likely be the key for the Braves in the NCAA tournament as they shot a respectable 37 percent from there (52nd in the country) during the season.
HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: The Braves were an actual Cinderella story the last time they made the NCAA tournament in 2006. Behind eventual first-round pick Patrick O’Bryant in the middle, Bradley took down No. 4 seed Kansas and No. 5 seed Pitt before falling to No. 1 seed Memphis in the Sweet Sixteen. Former veteran NBA guard Hersey Hawkins, one of college basketball’s most prolific scorers of all time, is also a Bradley alum.
FINAL THOUGHT: Head coach Brian Wardle deserves a tremendous amount of credit for rebuilding Bradley into the team they have today. Inheriting a program that didn’t have a lot of hope or talent, Wardle and the Braves suffered through a miserable 5-27 campaign during his first season in 2015-16. But Wardle and his staff found players who fit their system and continually improved as they’ve now reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in 13 years.