GAMES NOTES: The Bradley Braves will look to match their longest winning streak of the season when they visit the Evansville Purple Aces at the Ford Center for a Missouri Valley Conference clash.
With a pair of 69-66 victories on their home floor over Southern Illinois and Missouri State, the Braves have won back-to-back contests. The Braves have twice strung together three wins this season with the last such streak coming in early December. Bradley has earned a 12-7 overall record and with the two recent wins moved above .500 in league play (4-3) as well. On the road Bradley has split its first six contests. In the second half of this two-game road trip the Braves have a stern test against No. 20 Wichita State.
Evansville is returning from its own two-game road trip that ended in a pair of losses to Drake (83-69) and Indiana State (72-62). The slide has the Purple Aces at 11-8 overall this season while pushing them to the same 4-3 mark in conference play as the braves. Playing at home should help the Purple Aces get back on track as they are 9-2 at Ford Court this season including an impressive 71-67 victory over Wichita State. Evansville won't be home long as it plays three of its next four games on the road including the next contest against Illinois State.
Last season Evansville swept the season series. Despite that, Bradley owns the all-time series lead, 23-17.
Walt Lemon Jr.'s 3-pointer at the buzzer lifted Illinois State to a thrilling 69-66 victory over Missouri State on Saturday. Lemon Jr. had a game-high 20 points in the contest that helped the Braves overcome a 33-25 deficit on the boards. Turnovers were key as well with Bradley committing only nine, while forcing 15 from the Bears.
During this short two-game win streak Lemon Jr. has been stellar. He has averaged 18 points and six assists per contest, while shooting at a 46.2 percent clip from the field. The Braves leading scorer (13.8 ppg), Lemon Jr. was named Missouri Valley Conference player of the week for those efforts. Joining Lemon Jr. in the backcourt and in double figures is Dyricus Simms- Edwards (11.8 ppg, 3.2 apg) who might be more important for his efforts on the defensive end as he leads the MVC in steals (3.3 pg). Tyshon Pickett (10.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg) is the best option on the frontlines. As a team Bradley is closer to the bottom of the conference in offensive efficiency, scoring 68.2 points per game on 44.1 percent shooting. Defensively the Braves surrendered 63.7 points per game on 42.4 percent shooting.
Evansville failed to hold on in the second half against Indiana State. The Purple Aces got out to a 32-26 lead at halftime after shooting 54.2 percent in the first half. However in the second period they were only able to hit on 28.6 percent of their field goal attempts while being outscored 15-3 from beyond the arc.
In the loss, scoring machine Colt Ryan (17.1 ppg) continued his assault by tying for a game-high 19 points. The 6-foot guard is third in the conference in scoring at 19 points per game which was actually his lowest point total in the last five games. Ryan had scored at least 20 points in each of the previous four games as well as in eight games overall this season. Ned Cox (10.8 ppg) is the only other player scoring in double figures for the Purple Aces although Troy Taylor (6.5 ppg) has had at least 10 points four of the last five contests. Evansville compares favorably to Bradley on both ends of the floor. The Purple Aces are scoring 69.2 points per game while hitting 44 percent of their shots from the field. On defense, Evansville lets up 65.5 points per game while teams connect on 46 percent of their field goal attempts.
In a game between two squads that are relatively evenly matched the Purple Aces' homecourt advantage along with Ryan's ability to take over a game on the offensive end should prove decisive.