Thursday, February 28, 2019

Bradley survives Valparaiso for 19th win

Bradley's Chelsea Brackmann and Valparaiso's Ella Ellenson go for the opening tip of Thursday's game in Peoria.
Peoria, Ill. - The schedule is winding down on the Bradley Braves (19-7) (9-6), with just three games remaining after Thursday's conference tilt with the Valparaiso Crusaders (6-22) (2-14).

Now, the Crusaders' record may not look flashy, but bear in mind that the last time these two teams met at Valparaiso, the Crusaders won the game, 76-73.

Up went the opening tipoff, and all of 13 seconds later, Tatum Koenig got the Braves on the board. From there, it was back and forth.

It took until a pair of free throws by Valparaiso's Meredith Hamlet for either team to gain a multiple-possession lead, with the Crusaders holding a 24-19 lead. Yet just like that, the Braves got it back within a score, 24-23, on a layup from Chelsea Brackmann.

Gabi Haack was feeling it early for Bradley, scoring 11 of her 22 points in the opening period.

Meanwhile, Valparaiso had already made four threes. It would turn into a matter of if they were going to keep that up. Well, they did. Hamlet hit a trey 49 seconds into the second quarter to take a 27-23 lead.

The Crusaders kept up the momentum, with Grace Hales hitting one from behind the arc to give Valparaiso what would turn out to be their largest lead of the game at 38-29. Bradley responded by calling a timeout.

Bradley's timeout was executed well, as the Braves once again worked the Crusader advantage down to all of three points when Shunseere Kent converted a three-point play to make it 41-38.

A high-scoring first half was wrapped when Brackmann once again closed out a quarter's scoring, hitting a jumper with 41 seconds to go until the break. Valparaiso would take a slim 47-44 lead into the halftime locker room. With the three-point shooting continuing to come at a good clip for the Crusaders, they stood at 8-16 from downtown after 20 minutes. The shooting from distance was something that didn't necessarily completely catch Bradley off guard, but Coach Gorski says they knew they needed to look at other options.

"We had to go to plan B. We thought we could contain their threes a little bit, and then we said we got to press them, wear them out, and hopefully they're a little too tired to knock down those threes."

Haack thinks the shooting is something that's come up in the past with the Crusaders, so they knew how to fix the problem going into the second half.

"They always shoot really well against us, so a big key was to run them off the line in the second half."

When it comes to momentum and who grabs it, a lot of times it can come down to the first couple of minutes of second half action, or at least that can be one of the spots.

Valparaiso was pushing equaling their largest lead of the game, when Bradley went on a 5-0 run capped by a Brackmann three-point play to take a 54-53 lead.

Instead of letting the lead stay with the Crusaders, this time, the Braves kept it within a possession of the lead. In fact, it was Bradley getting as much as a six-point lead off a Brackmann three-point play.

Once again, back came Valparaiso. A layup to beat the quarter buzzer by Ella Ellenson trimmed the Bradley lead down to 64-62 with just a quarter to go.

It can't go without mentioning, but Brackmann and Lasha Petree combined for 17 of Bradley's 20 third-quarter points, with Brackmann going 6-6 from the charity stripe.

The game would return to a back-and forth mantra, until a Shunseere Kent jumper made it 78-71 with 5:11 to go.

After a foul was called on Haack, Valparaiso's Grace Hales netted both free throws to get it within 78-76, but that was the closest the visitors would get.

Let's go back to February 8th. Yep, that game. The 81-80 comeback win over Indiana State, officially labeled "Miracle on Main Street". In other words, time just may not matter when it comes to making a comeback. Haack agreed that a game such as that one can prove that you can't back down, regardless of what the lead may be, but she did say that it's important to have that mentality each and every game.

"Going into any game, I never doubt that we're going to lose. I know there's a chance they can come back. Today, it was pretty close."

Bradley responded by closing the game on a 9-0 run, finished with a free throw from Kent with just 21 seconds to go and secure an 87-76 victory for Bradley's 19th win of the 18-19 campaign.

Chelsea Brackmann would finish with her 14th double-double of the season, scoring a team-high 25 points and bringing in 13 rebounds. Haack (22) and Petree (21) joined Brackmann to make it the first time three Braves have scored 20 or more points in the same game since December 4th, 1998.

The Braves also shot an impressive 27-31 from the free throw line, a stat that Coach Gorksi was quite pleased with.

"That was huge, and that's focus. You gotta do that. Every time we play Valpo, it's going to be a lot of fouls, because they drive. It becomes a long game."

26 games into the 2018-2019 season, with just three games to go, Gorski likes where her team's at, while adding the significance of sending out seniors Shunseere Kent and Vanessa Markert out on a high note.

"Just really proud of this team. Win #19, 11 at home. We got two seniors that we really want to send out with a win here and they've been instrumental to our program."

Haack surely wouldn't be the only one to say that a season as successful as this one already has been, has flown by, to say the least.

"It's crazy how fast the season has gone. Saturday, we just have to win for our seniors, make it a great game because it's their last time playing on this court."

It's senior day, it's the last home game of the year, and Gorski will tell you that every game of the year is big, but she says that Saturday's game is a "must-win", going on to discuss the teams potential upward progression in the Missouri Valley standings ahead of the Hoops in the Heartland conference tournament.

Bradley has a quick turnaround, with the Ramblers of Loyola-Chicago coming to town for Senior Day on Saturday.

Bradley Scoring: Chelsea Brackmann (25), Gabi Haack (22), Lasha Petree (21), Shunseere Kent (14), Tatum Koenig (3), Nyjah White (2)

Bradley Team Stats:
Field Goals | 28 for 64 (43.8%)
Threes | 4 for 17 (23.5%)
Free Throws | 27 for 31 (87.1%)
Rebounds | 39
Fouls | 17
Assists | 15
Turnovers | 10
Blocks | 5
Steals | 8

Bradley Individual Leaders:
Field Goals | Brackmann / Haack / Petree (7 each)
Threes | Gabi Haack (3 for 9)
Free Throws | Chelsea Brackmann (11 for 12)
Rebounds | Chelsea Brackamann (13)
Assists | Tatum Koenig (5)
Blocks | Chelsea Brackmann (2)
Steals | Koenig / Kent (3 each)

Next Bradley Game:
Saturday, March 2nd
vs. Loyola-Chicago Ramblers
Tip-Off | 2:00 pm
Watch | ESPN3
Listen | 95.9 FM - Sports Nut

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