Bradley breaks Southern’s 10-game home winning streak

By Brooke Buerck, Sports Reporter

With less than a minute left and down by three, Saluki head coach Bryan Mullins called a timeout to try and rally his team in the final seconds. 

It was freshman guard Lance Jones who made the drive to the basket coming out of the timeout, but the contested layup fell short as Bradley grabbed the defensive board. 

Less than 20 seconds were left on the clock as Bradley’s senior guard Darrell Brown hit a jumper in the paint, securing a five point cushion for the Braves, and even as SIU’s senior guard Eric McGill drained a half-court shot at the buzzer, it wasn’t enough for Southern to get past Bradley a second time. 

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Bradley defeated Southern Illinois 69-67 at Banterra Center on Feb. 15 to complete their season sweep, handing the Salukis their second consecutive conference loss and first loss at home in 10 games. 

“It’s hard to win on the road, and that’s why, right there. Southern Illinois is rocking right now in their home arena, and it’s as loud as I’ve heard this place in five years,” Braves head coach Brian Wardle said. “I give my players a lot of credit – we never lost our composure. We didn’t play great in the second half, but we didn’t lose our composure.”

Mullins said he was proud of how his team responded in the second half of play.

“The first half wasn’t us. We didn’t play the right way, and credit to Bradley for coming out and starting the right way,” Mullins said. “I challenged the guys at halftime, and they really responded and gave ourselves a chance to win the game, and we’ve got to do a better job at executing at the end of the game.”

The Braves made a 14-point run in the final minutes of the first half to give them the 43-25 lead at halftime – it was a freshman guard Trent Brown 3-point basket at the halftime buzzer that kept their lead just under 20 points. 

“We know that Bradley’s a good team. They went to the NCAA tournament last year, and those are teams that we’re going to have to play like and beat to get to where they were last year,” Jones said. “So we just wanted to come out with the right mindset and stay focused and just take it one possession at a time to cut the lead.”

The Salukis were 8-for-28 in the first half, and went 5-for-16 from the 3-point range, while Bradley made twice as many shots as SIU, hitting 16-of-31 for 52% shooting. 

The Braves also outrebounded the Salukis 23 to 15. 

Looking to change the tide, SIU came out of the locker room at the half to go on a six-point run with the help of Jones and senior guard Eric McGill.

Jones would go on to score 13 of his 19 for the night in the second half and lead the Salukis offensively.

“[Lance] was determined. We had to get paint touches, we weren’t driving the ball well in the first half, we were being too passive on offense, and I challenged the guys at halftime and Lance did a great job at getting us going to start the second half,” Mullins said. 

Wardle said his team expected Southern to come out aggressively.

“We knew they were going to come out and throw a punch and come out and play really, really hard and aggressive to start the second,” Wardle said. “That’s what they did, and we struggled, got a little stagnant with turnovers, but I loved how we kept our composure and made enough plays to win.”

3-point baskets from graduate student center Barret Benson and freshman guard Marcus Domask helped cut Southern’s deficit to 10 points with just under 14 minutes left to play.

The 3-pointers continued to fall for the Salukis, as a basket from Jones and two consecutive baskets for Domask gave SIU their first lead of the second half with seven minutes left to play. 

“It felt really good [to start coming back]. The crowd got us going a little bit, but we just didn’t do a really good job of executing at the end,” Jones said. 

Bradley’s junior forward Elijah Childs and Brown combined for nine points in the final minutes to help the Braves regain the lead they needed to win. 

Childs led the Braves offensively with 14 points and nine rebounds, while senior forward Koch Bar controlled the boards with 11 rebounds and nine points.

Bradley’s other two scorers in double digits were senior guard Nate Kennell, who had 13, and sophomore guard Ja’Shon Henry, who put up 12.

For Southern, Domask followed up behind Jones with 15 points and 8 boards, while Benson added 12 points and grabbed 4 rebounds.

McGill pulled down a team high nine rebounds and added eight points as well. 

The Salukis finished the game 22-for-56 from the field compared to Bradley’s 27-for-58 finish overall. 

SIU takes the floor again Feb. 20 against the University of Evansville for their second-to-last home game of the season. 

“For us, we’ve got a tough stretch coming up. We’ve got four games in 10 days again, the guys will get a little rest this weekend and then we’ll be ready to go for the final stretch,” Mullins said. 

Tipoff at Banterra Center is set for 7 p.m.

Sports reporter Brooke Buerck can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bbuerck25.

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