FACTS & STATS: Site: Orleans Arena (9,500) -- Las Vegas, Nevada. Television: None. Home Record: Portland 6-1, Bradley 6-1. Away Record: Portland 0-5, Bradley 2-1. Neutral Record: Portland, Bradley 0-1. Conference Record: Portland 0-1, Bradley 0-0. Series Record: Series is tied, 1-1.
GAME NOTES: The Portland Pilots and the Bradley Braves will both try to bounce back from losses and close out the Las Vegas Classic on a high note when they meet at Orleans Arena on Sunday night.
While Portland has managed to string together six wins this season, it has not been the same team away from its home building. In addition to losing all five of their true road games, the Pilots dropped their first neutral-court game on Saturday night when they fell to Colorado State in the third round of the tournament, 70-53.
Bradley's 8-3 start has been especially impressive considering that its win total is already more than it registered during the entire 2011-12 campaign. The Braves had outstanding showings in the preliminary rounds of this event against Georgia Southern (62-43) and Mississippi Valley State (77-42), and then fought tooth and nail against Virginia Tech on Saturday before falling in overtime, 66-65.
These two teams have split a pair of meetings in the series, but both matchups came during the 1950s.
Portland had difficulty finding a rhythm in the 17-point loss to Colorado State, shooting less than 40 percent from the field, including 4-of-20 from 3- point range, and it lost both the turnover battle (13-7) and the battle on the boards (35-29). Ryan Nicholas was able to rise above his teammates' struggles by netting 15 points, while Riley Barker came off the bench to tally a double- double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Scoring points has not been the Pilots speciality this season, as it puts up less than 65 ppg while shooting a modest 42.6 percent from the field. They've been especially poor from beyond the arc, as they make just 4.5 treys per contest at a 30.7 percent clip. Nicholas has been nearly an automatic double-double, averaging 13.7 ppg and 9.3 rpg, although his field goal percentage (.432) is less than ideal for a physical forward. Kevin Bailey adds 12.2 ppg, and although Thomas Van Der Mars scores just 6.8 ppg, he does so on greater than 61 percent shooting.
The Braves led for most of the game against Virginia Tech, including by five points in the final minute of overtime, but they allowed the Hokies to score the final six points of the game as they dropped the heartbreaking decision. Bradley shot itself in the foot by making just 36.5 percent of its field goal attempts while committing 20 turnovers. Dyricus Simms-Edwards scored 15 points, albeit on just 4-of-11 from the floor, while Tyshon Pickett and Jordan Prosser netted 10 points apiece. Typically, the Braves have been much stronger from the floor, making nearly 46 percent of their attempts on the season for an average of 72.7 ppg, 10.6 ppg more than their opponents. While Walt Lemon, Jr. (12.6 ppg) and Pickett (12.5 ppg) are the only two to score in double figures on a nightly basis, Simms-Edwards, Prosser, Will Egolf and Jake Eastman all put up between 8.3 and 9.7 ppg.
Even in its defeats, Bradley has looked good this season, and it will surely be extra motivated to salvage the tournament with a win on Sunday after its tough loss to Virginia Tech. Portland has a few nice playmakers, but it has yet to show it can compete away from home, giving the Braves the clear edge to bounce back.