TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Coming off crushing opening-night losses, both Bradley and Indiana State played like teams with something to prove Saturday at the Hulman Center.
The result – a grind-it-out 65-60 Sycamores victory in which neither team could pull away — reflected those wills as fouls (51) and defense/poor shooting (a combined .324 shooting percentage) ruled the day.
“Our guys left it all out there,” said Indiana State coach Greg Lansing, whose team was thumped 79-44 Wednesday at Loyola. “A really gutsy win against a really good team.”
“We fought, we were way more aggressive, we were on the attack,” said BU coach Brian Wardle, whose team lost to UNI at home 65-47. “Our attitudes were good and we played for each other. We had the right guys shooting. We just have to learn how to make those shots.”
Indeed, the Braves’ 20-for-60 field-goal shooting (33 percent), including a paltry 3-for-20 effort (15 percent) beyond the 3-point arc, won't cut it on the road. Especially combined with 30 personal fouls, sending the hosts to the line 47 times (making 30), their highest total since 1995.
But BU point guard Darrell Brown, held to two points Wednesday, single-handedly would not let this one slip away into the kind of embarrassing abyss the Braves suffered Wednesday.
Brown scored 32 points, two shy of his career high and more than half of Bradley’s point total. When the Braves fell behind 57-48 in the final 90 seconds, Brown went from top scorer to unstoppable, scoring 10 of the team’s dozen points to slice the deficit to 62-60 on a 3-point play at :19.
“Last game I felt like I failed the team with two points,” Brown said. “I wasn’t aggressive enough and my defense wasn’t good enough. I needed to fix that and be there for my teammates.”
Bradley, which led by six points at the beginning of the second half, saw that lead dissolve seven minutes into the period for good. The Braves would get no closer at the end than the two-point deficit. But the rally was a refreshing change from several uninspired stretch runs since Thanksgiving.
In the end, though, the Braves (8-7, 0-2) dropped their sixth game in the last eight outings, starting 0-2 in the Missouri Valley Conference for the first time since Wardle’s initial rebuilding team of 2015-16 began 0-4.
“We stayed on the attack,” Wardle said. “When Darrell’s that aggressive, we’re a better team. But you can’t foul 30 times on the road. There’s a lot to build off. But a loss is a loss.”
Wardle was pleased with his team’s defense, holding the Sycamores – a team shooting 46 percent on the season -- to a season-low 31 percent from the field. BU held 17-point scorer Tyreke Key without a field goal, owned a 48-42 edge on the boards and blocked five shots.
But Wardle, whose second-half technical protesting a foul called on Brown cost his team two points, also drew satisfaction in convincing Brown what he could do for BU.
“I told him today if you miss 20 shots … 10 in a row … I don’t care,” Wardle said. “Just keep being on the attack. He’s an unselfish kid. I have to get him to be more selfish on offense because he can get going. These one-dribble pull-up 3s will have to get into his repertoire because of how teams are playing him.”
The only problem Saturday was Brown had no help. Take away his 8-for-17 shooting and the rest of the Braves shot 28 percent. Subtract his 3-for-9 3-point effort and his teammates were 0-for-11.
“Teams focus in on me a lot,” he said. “When you get those open shots, you’ve gotta take ‘em. Coach was been preaching that to me since Day One. I was looking for it more today. But a great game doesn’t mean anything if you lose.”
Lansing praised Brown, knowing what was in store for his defense after UNI shut him down.
“I knew he was salivating,” Lansing said. “He’s too good and too tough. He was just terrific, really good. And he’s a good defensive player. I like watching him play while we’re not playing him.”
But on Saturday, he was partial to his own guards – Jordan Barnes and Christian Williams – who combined for 34 points and 19 rebounds.
“It’s nice to have two guys like Christian and Jordan with the ball in their hands at the end of the game,” he said.
For Bradley, it’s another road game Tuesday at Valparaiso, off to a surprising 2-0 start in the league after its miracle last-second win over Illinois State and its 82-66 thumping of Missouri State on the road.
Brown is confident the Braves have turned a corner.
“I like that we were aggressive today,” he said. “If we tighten up some things, we ought to get a win on Tuesday.”
Dave Reynolds can be reached at 686-3210 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at davereynolds2.