The Missouri Valley champion is always a threat in March, and for a while, it looked like the 15 seed Bradley Braves were ready to add to the conference’s March lore. Bradley earned its trip to the tournament after completing a miracle second-half comeback in the MVC championship game and had a lead late against 2 seed Michigan State on Thursday before falling, 76-65.
Bradley meant business establishing its toughness from the start. Michigan State’s Aaron Henry scored the first basket of the game on a nice baseline drive and hook, then Bradley bounced back to score five straight to take a three-point lead. Bradley scored five more after Michigan State’s next basket to take a 10-4 lead into the first media timeout. The Braves came into the game as 18.5-point underdogs, but did not play like it.
Predictably, the Spartans made a run. Matt McQuaid hit a three to put the Spartans up 20-19 with 8:06 to go in the half. The teams then traded baskets down the stretch before heading to the locker room.
Bradley, a team that wins with its defense, put on an electric scoring performance in the first. Bradley hit six of nine first-half threes that helped it take a 35-34 lead at halftime. Elijah Childs led the Braves with 19 points on 9-14 shooting.
To start the second half, Bradley scored the first two buckets with Childs inside. However, Michigan State responded with a 12-0 run of its own pounced on Winston and McQuaid’s threes. The game was moving too fast for the Braves and things started to unravel. Michigan St built up a seven-point advantage with 12:47 to go. However, Dwayne Lautier hit a big three that was followed by a Brown steal on the inbounds, resulting in a lay-up. After a five-point swing, Bradley found itself threatening once again.
Bradley took a one-point lead with less than 10 minutes to play. Bradley began to dig in and grind defensively. Leading 53-52 with 8:32 to go, the Braves earned the entire country’s attention.
This game had all the signs of a miracle upset. After a missed Michigan State fast break dunk with 6:09, to go the Braves seemed destined for greatness. They just couldn’t hit the big shots late. Bradley missed two straight free throws that would have given it a lead. Michigan State went on 7-0 run over the course of 3:03 and McQuaid hit a dagger three to make it six-point game with 3:02 left.
Michigan State moves on to face conference foe Minnesota on Saturday in the Second Round.