WMBD/WYZZ-TV STAFF - PEORIA, Ill. - Bradley junior guard Walt Lemon Jr. scored a game-high 20 points, including a banked 3-pointer at the buzzer, lifting the Braves (12-7, 4-3) to a 69-66 Missouri Valley Conference victory versus Missouri State (5-14, 3-4 MVC) Saturday afternoon at Carver Arena.
Bradley never trailed in the game and led by as many as 16, but Anthony Downing's layup with 4.3 seconds left forged the game's only tie, 66-66. Following a timeout, Lemon took the inbounds pass near the Missouri State bench, then weaved his way through traffic to the right wing, where he launched a 25-foot runner at the horn for Bradley's first buzzer-beating basket since Chris Roberts' 75-footer to beat Oakland March 23, 2009 in the second round of the inaugural CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.
By sweeping its 2-game home stand with a pair of 69-66 victories (the Braves beat Southern Illinois by the same score Tuesday night), Bradley has now won 12 of its first 19 games for the first time since 2006-07 (13-6) and just the fourth time since the 1995-96 MVC regular-season championship season. And at 9-2 at home with five games at Carver Arena remaining, the Braves have secured a winning home record for the first time since 2009-10 (10-5).
Lemon was joined in double-figures by senior guard Dyricus Simms-Edwards (17) and senior center Will Egolf, who scored all of his 11 points in the first 10:25. Downing was one of three Missouri State players to score 13 points, joining Gavin Thurman and Marcus Marshall.
Missouri State came into the game averaging only 10.7 turnovers per game, but Bradley's defense forced the Bears into nine first-half miscues while limiting the visitors to just 6-for-21 (.286) shooting from the field. With the Braves hitting at a 52.0 percent clip (13-25) and making 6-of-11 3-point attempts, Bradley cruised to a 35-20 lead at the break.
The Bears hit Bradley with an 11-2 burst out of halftime, closing to 37-31 with 16:55 left, then cut the gap to just three points, 50-47, on two Marshall free throws with 10:08 remaining. Bradley appeared to regain control by scoring the next seven points and pushed the lead to 61-49 on two Simms-Edwards free throws with 6:47 remaining.
Thurman buried three 3-pointers during Missouri State's closing push, though. After Thurman's third trey made it 66-62 with 1:30 left, the Bears forced a Jalen Crawford turnover and got a putback basket from Dorrian Williams to make it 66-64. Eastman missed a 3-pointer from the left wing with 33 seconds left, setting up Missouri State to play for a last-second shot. Downing beat Eastman off the dribble and made a driving layup, setting the stage for Lemon's dramatic finish.