Team Profile: 2007 BracketBuster Recap: Bradley 73, VCU 64

by Chris Mackinder | February 17th, 2007

Bradley 73, VCU 64

Fírmate aquí.

In English, the Spanish phrase means, “sign here.” On Saturday, Bradley signed next to the BracketBusters victory line. Now they have a great chance to sign their ticket to the Big Dance.

Score another one for the Missouri Valley Conference. While this year’s “least appreciated conference” seemingly has been the Colonial Athletic Association – the conference of last year’s Final Four surprise George Mason – when it came to this battle of the top two mid-major conferences, the MVC came out on top.

Bradley traveled to Richmond for a Saturday night game against the CAA’s top team, Virginia Commonwealth. Even before the game, it was evident that the result would push one team toward an at-large bid and the other toward the bubble, “burst” section.

The Braves used a 24-10 spurt during a 12-minute period in the second half to cruise to a 73-64 win against the Rams.

The signature victory might be just what Bradley needed on its NCAA Tournament resume. The Braves are inching closer to – if not passing – Missouri State in the MVC’s NCAA Tournament pecking order. According to ESPN.com, Bradley’s RPI sits at No. 29 and the Braves’ strength of schedule is at No. 18. Compare that with Missouri State’s numbers (RPI: 43, SOS: 30) and the Braves seem to have a great shot at defending last year’s spot in the Sweet 16.

But on this night, the NCAA Tournament wasn’t on Bradley coach Jim Les’ mind. He just wanted the victory, and he knew his team would get it by playing stellar defense.

“One thing I wrote on the board before we came out, ‘If you guard them, we’ll win the game,’” Les said following the victory. “And to a man, they guarded their tails off. We get a lot of publicity for our offense, but we’re awfully good defensively when we dig in.”

Digging in is exactly what Bradley did when it faced a 38-36 deficit late in less than two minutes into the second half. Jeremy Crouch, who scored a game-high 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting, hit a jumper in the lane to tie the score and swished a 3-pointer on the next possession to start the Braves on the 24-10 run. Crouch scored eight of his 22 points during the stretch.

When the defense wasn’t carrying Bradley, 3-point shooting was. The Braves (19-10) forced just 12 turnovers in the game – five steals did lead to a handful of easy baskets – but a ridiculous 11-for-23 performance behind the arc may just coin a new phrase for Bradley in the MVC Tournament: Arc Madness.

“It just wasn’t our night tonight,” VCU coach Anthony Grant said after the game. “We knew coming in they were a good 3-point shooting team, and that was our emphasis – to limit their opportunities. But it was difficult for us tonight to contain them. When they have four skilled guys on the floor like that, they’re tough to guard.”

Jesse Pellot-Rosa and B.A. Walker led the Rams in scoring with 14 and 12 points, respectively. Three other players, Michael Anderson (11), Jamal Shuler (11) and T.J. Gwynn (10) scored in double figures.

An 11-0 run opened midway through the first half opened things up for the Rams a bit. But, the 22-14 lead didn’t hold for long and Bradley had closed to the hole to 35-34 at intermission.

For Virginia Commonwealth (22-6), the chances of an at-large bid took a serious hit. The Rams might have to run the table in their remaining regular season games and make it all the way to the finals of the CAA Tournament for a spot in the Field of 65. ESPN.com currently has VCU’s RPI at No. 57 and SOS at No. 127 – not exactly the kind of numbers that would generate optimism across the Commonwealth. But there is good news. The Rams still are on top of the CAA with a 14-2 conference record.

Interestingly enough, VCU was the only team of the top four in the CAA to lose in the BracketBusters. Old Dominion, Hofstra and Drexel all notched big wins, meaning if the Rams don’t win the CAA Tournament, the Rams might get shut out.

Both teams walked into the Siegel Center with the hopes of recording a signature victory. When the final buzzer sounded, only Bradley could lay claim to one.

–Chris Mackinder

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