Saturday, January 5, 2019

Braves lose to Drake by 29

Bradley's Nyjah White and Drake's Sara Rhine go up for the opening tip of Friday's game in Peoria. The Bulldogs would win the game, 92-63. PHOTO / ALEX STAAB
Peoria, Ill. - It would arguably be the biggest home game of the year for the Bradley Braves (10-2) (0-1), taking on the preseason Missouri Valley favorite and two-time defending champion Drake Bulldogs (9-4) (1-0) on Friday night at Renaissance Coliseum.

This one got off to a fast start, but not for Bradley. Drake's Sara Rhine hit a jumper just 40 seconds into the game. That would be just the beginning of a 22-9 Bulldog run to start, capped by a three from Becca Hittner.

The Braves would not crack double figures until sophomore Gabi Haack knocked down a three with 3:47 to go in the quarter. Bradley would only score six more points after that.

Roughly 20 seconds apart, a three from Drake's Nicole Miller and a jumper from Bradley senior Vanessa Markert finished the scoring for the opening period, and the visiting Bulldogs were already out to a 30-18 lead.

Drake head coach Jennie Baranczyk could not have been more pleased with how her team started.

"I love the way that we started. Bradley's a good team. I love the pace of the game. I think if you were at the game today, you really enjoyed it. I do love that we competed. There were spurts where they (Bradley) exposed us. Overall, I thought it was a really good basketball game today."

Scoring did not get much better for the Braves in the second quarter. In fact, it went down.

Junior forward Chelsea Brackmann hit a jumper 20 seconds in to get Bradley within 33-20, but that would turn out to be as close as the Braves would get for the rest of the game.

About mid-way through the quarter, Gabi Haack was fouled aggressively and fell into the Drake bench unharmed. Being behind the arc, Haack had three free throws on the way, and made all three. After that, the Braves went on nearly a five minute scoring drought.

The visiting Bulldogs went on a 10-0 run after that, reaching that point when Hittner dropped another three to make it 48-26, which at that point was the largest lead of the game. Brackmann hit a jumper with 28 seconds to go, but that would be it for Bradley.

When the halftime buzzer sounded, Bradley had only scored 10 points in the second quarter to Drake's 20, equating out to a 50-28 halftime lead for the Bulldogs.

Now, the third quarter may have been the best of the game for the Braves. A Brackmann layup got things going not even 30 seconds in. A three from Gabi Haack and layup from Nyjah White followed. Yet, through all of this, the Bulldogs still managed to get a new largest lead at 25, when Becca Hittner hit three free throws after being fouled behind the three-point line.

After Brackmann made a pair of free throws with just over five minutes to go in the third, Drake would go scoreless for just over a minute. The Braves would take advantage, but the Bulldogs were already too far ahead. A Brackmann layup and free throw, plus a jumper from Tatum Koenig put Bradley on a mini-run.

Again, Drake already had a sizeable lead, 62-42 after that 5-0 Bradley run.

The game got within 20 when Markert made a layup with 2:02 on the clock, but it was all Bulldogs the rest of the quarter.

Drake would get a free throw from Hittner, layup and free throw from Rhine, and another Rhine layup to close out the quarter with the Bulldogs having gone on a 6-0 run to take a 24-point lead at 73-49 entering the fourth quarter.

The Bulldogs played quite well in the fourth quarter as well. Granted, there wasn't much scoring between either side at first.

Drake opened the fourth on a 8-0 run to open the game up to a 30+ deficit for Bradley, essentially making the game out of reach.

It wasn't until an Ellie Spelhaug free throw at the 5:54 mark of the quarter that the Braves were able to hit the scoring column in the final 10 minutes.

A jumper from Shunseere Kent brought the game back within 30 for awhile, but not for too long. A layup from Drake's Monica Burich put the Bulldogs one point away from 90.

Bradley head coach Andrea Gorski thinks it can only be one reason as to how Drake got out to as big of a lead as they did.

"They were physical with us, so instead of executing, we just jacked up shots."

All the Bulldogs needed was two points, and it'd be the highest-scoring game by a Bradley opponent since the Western Illinois Leathernecks beat the Braves 91-77 back on December 5th, 2016.

A layup from Burich would eclipse that 91 mark and wrap up the Drake scoring for the night.

Bradley freshman Asia Strong capped the game's scoring with a pair of free throws to set the final score. The Bulldogs would come into Peoria and leave with a nearly 30-point win. 92-63 was the final score.

After the game, Coach Gorski said it came down to one aspect of the game that may just have made the difference.

"They were just way too physical for us. We didn't want to play physical basketball today."

As to what made Drake so much more physical, Gorski said it was really a flurry of things.

"They jump all over your back. They push you, they shove you. You have to be able to box them out. We didn't want to."

On the other hand, Coach Baranczyk says that Bradley may just have been the more physical team in the second half.

"I think we did a better job in the first half in terms of being physical and being aggressive. I thought they (Bradley) were more physical and aggressive in the second half. They got to the free throw line 24 times in the second half. So that's something that we have to be able to clean up."

Her daughter, Hope, which Baranczyk had alongside for most of the interview, agreed with a "yeah, yeah".

A comparison with the Purdue game came up. Gorski acknowledged that, adding that the only difference was the Braves cutting the Purdue lead down substantially.

"Purdue's pretty physical, but Drake just punched us in the mouth and we didn't want to fight back. I thought Gabi (Haack) fought back. She played really hard. I thought Ellie (Spelhaug) came in for us and was very tough off the bench."

There aren't many positives you can take out of this one, but Gorksi sees one.

"I saw who our tough kids are."

As one may imagine, there's frustration in the locker room. A team with championship expectations, (10-1) non-conference record, (6-0) at home, certainly wasn't planning on losing by almost 30 to open conference play. Gabi Haack says that's exactly the case.

"I was really pumped for this game going in. It was frustrating. This isn't how I wanted it to turn out. There's definitely a lot of things we need to work on."

Coach Baranczyk said that every win in a conference like the Missouri Valley is a good one.

"It's huge - every opponent in this league. I do think this is a really good league. Bradley's a great team. They've had a great non-conference, so this is a really big win for us."

The Braves have a quick turnaround as per the usual, hosting the Northern Iowa Panthers on Sunday, who are coming off of a 66-64 loss to Illinois State on Friday.

Bradley Scoring: Haack (23), Brackmann (11), Kent (7), Markert (6), Koenig (5), Spelhaug (4), Petree (3), White (2), Strong (2)

Drake Scoring: Hittner (26), Rhine (22), Bachrodt (11), Wooldridge (8), Dean (6), Rose (6), Burich (6), Miller (5), Mertz (2)

Bradley Team Stats:
FGs | 19 for 63 (30.2%)
3's | 4 for 21 (19.0%)
FTs | 21 for 27 (77.8%)
Reb | 40
Fls | 23
Ast | 11
TO | 20
Blk | 5
Stl | 6

Drake Team Stats:
FGs | 33 for 69 (47.8%)
3's | 9 for 24 (37.5%)
FTs | 17 for 25 (68.0%)
Reb | 46
Fls | 27
Ast | 24
TO | 17
Blk | 4
Stl | 13

Bradley Individual Leaders:
FGs | Gabi Haack (6 for 12)
3's | Gabi Haack (3 for 5)
FTs | Gabi Haack (8 for 9)
Reb | Brackmann / Haack (9 each)
Ast | Haack / Lawson (3 each)
Blk | Lasha Petree (3)
Stl | Chelsea Brackmann (3)

Drake Individual Leaders:
FGs | Sara Rhine (8 for 12)
3's | Becca Hittner (4 for 7)
FTs | Becca Hittner (8 for 9)
Reb | Sara Rhine (14)
Ast | Brenni Rose (5)
Blk | Sara Rhine (2)
Stl | Sammie Bachrodt (4)

Next Bradley Game:
Sunday, January 6th
vs. Northern Iowa
2:00 pm
Watch | ESPN3
Listen | WIRL 1290 AM

Next Drake Game:
Sunday, January 6th
@ Illinois State
2:00 pm
Watch | ESPN+
Listen | 1350 ESPN

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