The Bradley Braves held an open practice Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa ahead of Thursday’s NCAA Tournament clash with fifth ranked Michigan State.
The practice session lasted only about 45 minutes. But, earlier in the day, the Braves held a full practice at Drake University.
The Braves, champions of the Missouri Valley Conference, are the No. 15 seed in the East Region and will meet No. 2 seed Michigan State, champions of the Big Ten Conference. Tipoff is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. Thursday.
Braves student-athletes and Head Coach Brian Wardle also met with the national media gathered at the venue to get their comments on the season and the upcoming game.
“They play their pace,” said Bradley sophomore forward Elijah Childs. “They don’t beat themselves. We’ve got to come in and execute our game plan and play at our pace and do what we do. Just another thing, offensive rebounding and rebounding on both ends, everybody has to box out and rebound. If we can play a half-court game I think we will be in great shape.”
Senior guard Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye says the two teams are similar to each other.”
“Their bigs run really well on the floor, which is something we were impressed with,” Lautier-Ogunleye said. “They’re physical. They rebound, but they are a lot like us which is kind of cool.”
Lautier-Ogunleye said the Braves are ready for a physical battle.
“We thrive on it. We are a group of competitors,” Lautier-Ogunleye said. “We do it every day in practice and this is exciting. This is what March basketball is all about. I grew up in London wanting to be a part of this and now to be able to play a game like this is just exciting. We are all pumped and ready to go.”
Wardle told reporters his team has built a resiliency throughout the season, as evidenced by the 18-point comeback win over Northern Iowa in the MVC Tournament title game.
“But we do not want to be down 18 to Michigan State. Let me make that clear, and we do not want to have 15 points at halftime like we did because they’re too explosive of a team as we all know,” Wardle said. “Down two, three, four possessions our group is going to battle. We have shown that all year. We have heart. We have toughness, and even if the shots aren’t falling we’ve got to stay committed to the defense and the rebounding. If we can do that, we can play with anybody.”
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Bradley’s 36 percent three-point shooting percentage (Michigan State shoots 38 percent from three) is something his team will have to contend with.
“(Darrell) Brown and (Nate) Kennell can shoot it from long range and that’s always the worry for a lower seed against a higher seed, the three-point shot,” Izzo said. “I’ve seen nights where they’ve made a ton of them from long, long range. We’re going to have to do a good job of defending that.”
Izzo remembered taking his Spartans team to Peoria in 2007 in front of an all-time attendance record at Carver Arena that still stands.
“(I said) how stupid I was. Why would I come there and do that?,” Izzo said. “And I don’t mean that insultingly, I mean I know what kind of team they were. I remember going to a luncheon that day and there were 400 or 500 people at the luncheon, and I was like, God, what did I get my hands into.”
“It was a great atmosphere. Peoria has had great basketball for a hundred years it seems like. I remember when it was stocked with high school players, kind of like our Flint. There has been some fall off maybe because of companies leaving and going and staying, but it’s always been great.”
Braves Plus, live from the official Bradley watch party at Bullpen Bar and Grill, will begin at 12:36 p.m. Thursday on 1470 and 100.3 WMBD.