PEORIA, Ill. - After Bradley's new gargoyle mascot, Kaboom!, was introduced as a sixth starter during a fireworks show in the pregame, Loyola Chicago may have felt it was playing against six defenders. Bradley (12-17, 7-9 MVC) used a season-best 14 steals to force 23 Loyola turnovers in a 55-38 victory Saturday night at Carver Arena.
Bradley limited the Ramblers (9-19, 4-12 MVC) to the fewest point total by a Braves opponent since a 76-35 win against Oakland Dec. 6, 1997. For the second time this year, a Bradley opponent did not produce a double-digit scorer and Loyola shot just 26.5 percent (13-49) from the field, including 1-for-18 (.056) from 3-point range.
Despite the defensive effort, Bradley led just 19-17 at halftime and did not take control until forward Auston Barnes scored the first seven points of the second half for his only points of the night. After Barnes' 7-0 personal run got the second half started, Walt Lemon Jr. stretched a 26-20 Bradley lead to double-digits by following with 10 of the game's next 14 points. He eventually gave the Braves a 20-point lead, 42-22, with a steal to set up his breakaway, double-pump, reverse slam with 9:25 remaining.
Lemon finished as the game's only double-digit scorer with 16 points, pushing him into the top 50 (49th) in Missouri Valley Conference history with 1,659 career points. He also registered five of Bradley's 14 steals, moving past Daniel Ruffin into fourth place in school history with 211 career steals.
Lemon is one of four Bradley seniors who will play their final Bradley Basketball home game Tuesday night when the Braves host #3 Wichita State (29-0, 16-0) in a nationally-televised game at Carver Arena. The nation's lone unbeaten team, Wichita State is trying to unseat the 1985-86 Bradley Braves (16-0) as the last undefeated Valley regular-season champion.
Likely to be ranked #2 in the national polls, Wichita State will be the highest-ranked team to ever play at Carver Arena and the highest-ranked opponent to visit Peoria since the Shockers also carried a #2 ranking into the old Robertson Memorial Fieldhouse Jan. 9, 1982. The Braves won that game, 55-47, on the way to an eventual NIT championship.