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Missouri Valley Tournament Day 1 recap: Bradley and Evansville advance

The Madness is just beginning.

NCAA Basketball: Evansville at Arkansas
Jaylon Brown scored 27 points to spark Evansville.
Gunnar Rathbun-USA TODAY Sports

Play-in games can get ugly and that’s what happened in Thursday’s opener of the the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. One team (Evansville) couldn’t miss a shot and the other (Indiana State) couldn’t make one.

Sycamore head coach Greg Lansing’s team couldn’t buy a basket, shooting 21 percent in the first half, while Marty Simmons’ sharp-shooters were red-hot, going 53 percent from the floor, as the Missouri Valley Conference’s leading scorer, Jaylon Brown, poured in 15 first half points.

The 44-25 halftime score said it all, and it got worse in the second half, until a furious comeback by Indiana State made it respectable.

Brown finished with 27 points and was joined in the double-figure scoring parade by Duane Gibson (20), Ryan Taylor (12), and Christian Benzon (11). The final score of 83-72 gave the Purple Aces their sixth win in their last eight games and evened their record at 16-16.

Evansville plays co-champion Illinois State (25-2) Friday at noon.

The night-cap was tighter, but filled with uneven play early. Eight minutes into the game between seventh-seeded Bradley and 10th-seeded Drake, the teams had combined for five field goals, seven turnovers, and just 14 total points.

Then the lights seemed to turn on for both teams. Offensive sets were more crisp and shots started to fall. Bradley led by five at the half (31-26) and, thanks to junior Donte Thomas’s 17 second-half points, held on for a 67-58 win.

Bradley (13-19) won its fourth straight game and has now won eight more games than last season. For his efforts, head coach Brian Wardle received the third-most votes in the Missouri Valley Coach of the Year balloting.

Three other Braves reached double figures in scoring. Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye scored 11 points, all in the first half, while Koch Bar and Darrell Brown each added 10.

Bradley plays co-champion Wichita State Friday night at 6 p.m. CT. The Braves lost to the No. 21 Shockers by 34 points in Wichita and by 15 in Peoria.