PEORIA — A screaming, yelling, foot-stomping crowd of 3,096 fans at Renaissance Coliseum just about sparked the Bradley women's basketball team to a big comeback in a matinee Field Trip Day game on Tuesday.
But the Braves (5-5) came up just short in their comeback attempt, dropping a 67-65 decision to Cleveland State (8-3) for their first home loss of the season.
It was the largest stand-alone crowd for the BU women at Renaissance Coliseum. But the number fell just shy the all-time the largest stand-alone, single-game crowd in the history of the program, missing the record by just 32.
The sixth annual Field Trip Day attracted about 2,500 school children — ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade — from 15 area elementary, middle and junior high schools.
"The marketing department did a great job of getting these kids here," Bradley coach Andrea Gorski said. "I wish we could always play in front of that many fans at Renaissance Coliseum.
"It makes a great difference. These kids screamed their hearts out, and I hope they enjoyed it. It was good that we at least gave them some excitement at the end of the game. Anytime elementary kids want to come to our games, they're more than welcome. They provide great energy, and they definitely made a difference in our energy trying to fight back and come back."
The Braves got off to a fast start in the game, but fell behind at halftime, 36-28, after scoring just six points in the second quarter.
"It hurt us in the second quarter when Vanessa (Markert) picked up her second foul," Gorski said. "We had to throw out a couple of different lineups that we're not used to playing together and try to just keep out of foul trouble."
Markert had her best game of the season, with a team-high 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting and eight rebounds.
Markert scored 18 of her points after the break, including 11 in the fourth quarter when the Braves pulled to within a point of the Vikings with seven seconds left after being down by 14 early in the second half.
"We were just making dumb decisions and not following our game plan," she said about the early BU deficit. "That dug us a really big hole, and ultimately we couldn't get out of it.
"But the big crowd gave us so much energy today, and I hope to see them at another game. They just helped us will it back into the game. They were loud, and it's really special to play in front of that many people, especially a younger crowd."
The crowd also might have benefited the visitors, who tried to sway some fans their way by tossing candy into the crowd before the game.
"Whenever we do Kids Day games, our opponents always have candy to try and win the crowd over," Vikings coach Kate Peterson Abiad said. "So we started to do that, too, to try to get some of them to cheer for us. It didn't work, but I did hear some of them cheer for a shot we hit at the beginning."
Khayla Livingston led Cleveland State with 30 points, including a 6-of-11 effort on 3-pointers. But the Vikings were not able to put the Braves away.
"We did not expect it to be that close at the end," Peterson Abiad said. "We couldn't find an answer to stop No. 44 (Markert). She had a tremendous game, and hit everything she put up. (The Braves) got some momentum, upped the pressure and were feeling confident, and we did just enough to get through that."
She added the big crowd probably added to the energy on both benches.
"The crowd always helps," Peterson Abiad said. "It's really ashamed that we don't have this type of crowd at every game. It's nice to have the college atmosphere, and I always appreciate that they involve kids into a game. I think it's great for both sides."
Johnny Campos can be reached at 686-3214 or a email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnnyCampos59.