Bradley University Men’s Basketball is going dancing. The Braves beat the University of Northern Iowa in comeback fashion to punch their ticket. 57-54 was the final score on Sunday afternoon as the buzzer sounded and UNI’s final heave clanked off the backboard making the Bradley Braves Missouri Valley Conference champions for the first time since 1988. This is the first NCAA Tournament appearance for Bradley since they beat Kansas and Pittsburgh on their way to the Sweet 16 in 2006.
The victory for the Braves was hard fought, and was things were grim at halftime. “At halftime I thought this game was trash. They couldn’t buy a bucket so it was pretty disappointing,” said Bradley fan Daniel Soriano. Bradley Senior Jake Masters went to each game Bradley played in the MVC Tournament in St. Louis over the weekend. He said it wasn’t looking great for the Braves coming out of the half. “Right after halftime they pushed it up to 18 and at that point we’re just like, this is not good. Things are not going our way. It just might not be our day,” explained Masters with a grin.
Former Bradley athlete Clark Emerson stopped watching after UNI took a big lead. “I had my hopes up and when they weren’t doing so good I got my hopes crushed,” said Emerson. But Senior Luqman Lundy scored 9 of his 11 points to bring the Braves back. “My buddy was at the game hitting my phone up so we had to turn it on and watch,” said Emerson. Soriano added, “I was really really excited. They were finally buying some buckets and the star players got going.”
In the end the Braves held on after a last second heave from UNI was too long. The ‘Red Sea’ and the rest of the Bradley faithful stormed the court, emotions running high. “During the four years this was definitely the most exciting moment for anyone that’s kept up with Bradley basketball,” said Senior ‘Red Sea’ President Maddy White. Jake Masters was out on the court with the players, coaches, students, and fans after the final buzzer sounded. “It was the biggest crowd we’ve had all season. Everybody together out there, the spirit was the highest I’ve seen since my time here at Bradley,” explained Masters.
Vice President of Collegiate Athletics at Bradley Dr. Chris Reynolds says the staff is to thank for turning around a program that won 5 games when the current Seniors were Freshmen. Reynolds explained, “It starts with just hiring great staff. Hiring great coaches. Hiring great people.” In his time spent with the team, he compliments their commitment off the court to their success. “A lot of it is just getting out of the way and letting them do their job. That gives them confidence that I believe in them (as a coaching staff),” said Reynolds, who has been at Bradley since 2015.
Senior Basketball Manager Jacob Wetzel has been with the team all four years at Bradley. He was there when they won 5 games all season. He was there Sunday when they rushed the floor and cut down the nets as Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Champions. He said the trip to St. Louis was all business. “These guys just work hard. All 13 of them really really work hard. I’m just happy for them and the coaching staff to finally see a payout,” said Wetzel.
Bradley waits until Sunday night to find out where they land on the bracket. During the NCAA Tournament selection show they will find out who and where they will play next week.