GAME NOTES: A pair of squads off to solid 8-2 starts do battle in the third round of the Las Vegas Classic, as the Bradley Braves take on the Virginia Tech Hokies at Orleans Arena on Saturday night.
The winner will advance to play either Portland or Colorado State in the final round on Sunday, while the losers square off as well.
Bradley has put together an improbable start to the season. After winning just seven games during the 2011-12 campaign, it has already surpassed that win total by winning eight of its first 10. The Braves are currently winners of three straight, which includes home verdicts over Georgia Southern (62-43) and Mississippi Valley State (77-42) in the preliminary rounds of this event.
The Hokies got their season off to a flying start, with wins in each of their first seven games, highlighted by an 81-71 home victory over nationally-ranked Oklahoma State on Dec. 1. Since that start however, Virginia Tech has faltered in two of its last three, losing at West Virginia (68-67) and most recently at home to Georgia Southern last Saturday (78-73).
This bout marks the first-ever meeting between these two programs on the hardwood.
Bradley has amassed nearly a plus-10.0 scoring margin by holding its opponents to 40.6 percent shooting from the field while draining 46.4 percent themselves. The unit's balanced attack was on display in the recent win over Mississippi Valley State, as it made good on 50 percent of its field goal attempts while holding its foe to fewer field goals (15) than it had turnovers (24). Tyshon Pickett was 7-of-10 from the field for 18 points and added nine rebounds in the triumph, while Walt Lemon, Jr. chipped in 14 points. Lemon, Jr. is the team's leading scorer (12.9 ppg) and assist man (3.9 apg), and he connects on 91.7 percent of his free throw attempts. Pickett shoots 50.6 percent from the field for 12.2 and adds a team-high 6.9 rpg. No other Braves' player averages in double figures, but Will Egolf, Jordan Prosser, Dyricus Simms-Edwards and Jake Eastman all net between 9.0 and 9.9 ppg.
Virginia Tech is the ACC's second-highest scoring team through the first six weeks (81.3 ppg), and it has done so by making good on 45.6 percent of its field goal attempts while dropping in seven 3-pointers per contest. Things did not go as smoothly against Georgia Southern however, as it made less than 40 percent of its total shots, including just 6-of-27 from beyond the arc, in the five-point loss. Even in defeat, Erick Green was fantastic once again as he finished with 28 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Green (24.8 ppg) has now scored 20 points or more in each game this season, and he ranks behind only Lehigh's C.J. McCollum (24.9 ppg) as the nation's leading scorer. He is also among the conference leaders in assists per game (4.9) and free throw percentage (.898). Jarell Eddie (21 points, eight rebounds) and C.J. Barksdale (10 points, nine boards) were also impressive in the losing effort. The Hokies are far from a one-man operation, as Eddie has been solid in the frontcourt, tallying 15.4 ppg and 7.2 rpg, while Robert Brown adds 12.3 ppg to the mix.
Bradley's success this year has been a great story, and it seems to have the talent to make a legitimate run in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Braves' balanced attack is sure to give the Hokies fits, but the slight edge has to go to Virginia Tech in this one, as Green has the ability to take over at the drop of a hat.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Virginia Tech 78, Bradley 76
12/22 10:32:28 ET
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