In a game where points were not easy to come by, Ball State held a 45-37 lead with less than seven minutes to play. But a 13-2 Bradley run turned the tide down the stretch at Carver Arena.
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“They started changing defenses on us,” Ball State coach James Whitford said. “They started pressing a little bit late, and they went a little bit of zone. I thought we attacked it great a couple times. We got the ball right to the rim and they had a couple spectacular blocks.
“We were able to attack their pressure, but we couldn’t finish at the rim. At the other end van Bree hit a couple big 3’s when we really had a chance to open up the game.”
Ball State featured a balanced offense with Naiel Smith, Jeremiah Davis and Bo Calhoun leading the way at eight points. Franko House, Sean Sellers and Jeremie Tyler each had seven.
Friday’s opener presented a challenge in preparation for Ball State. Bradley was playing its first game under head coach Brian Wardle and featured virtually an entirely new roster from a season ago, making it difficult know what to expect.
One of those newcomers, Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye, led all scorers with 18 points and took over the offense at times with his driving ability. He went to the free throw line 15 times. Another newcomer, van Bree, made only two shots all night, but they were back-to-back 3’s during Bradley’s late run. The second one put the Braves on top.
“They put the ball in (Lautier-Ogunleye’s) hands and put him in position to make plays off pick and rolls,” Whitford said. “They were having a really tough time scoring, and they put the ball in his hands and he was in attack mode. His getting to the free throw line 15 times was the difference in the game.”
Ball State placed a heavy emphasis on defense in the preseason, and it was solid against Bradley. The Braves made 15 of 47 attempts from the floor and 5 of 20 from 3-point range.
The Cardinals made five more shots from the floor, but the difference was at the free throw line. Bradley was 19 for 32 from the stripe, while Ball State was 10 for 20.
Smith answered van Bree’s second 3-pointer to tie the game 50-50 with 2:07 to play, but Bradley got to the foul line on its next three possessions and led 54-51. An end-to-end lay-in from Davis cut the lead to one with six seconds left.
Ball State went for the steal on the inbounds but then had to foul. Bradley missed both free throws and House grabbed the rebound, but all he could do was heave an attempt from beyond half court as time expired.
Smith finished with eight points, seven rebounds and two assists in his Ball State debut. Big man Trey Moses scored five points and grabbed five boards in his first collegiate game.
Ball State will return to Muncie for its home opener. The Cardinals welcome Eastern Illinois for a 7 p.m. tipoff Monday at Worthen Arena.
(Courtesy of BSU Athletics)