PEORIA – Just when you think things cannot get worse for the Bradley men’s basketball team, they do.
The Braves, who lost to Drake 69-52 on Wednesday to drop to 0-5 in the Missouri Valley Conference, have been living Murphy’s Law (Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) since Thanksgiving. They’ve lost nine of 11 games, including five of their last six at home.
So, of course, Drake shows up Wednesday night with the Murphy twins – Tremell and Anthony.
It took a bit, but the double hex would strike the Braves at their most vulnerable – on the offensive end.
For 12 long minutes, Bradley did not make a shot – 20 consecutive misses. Twenty! Shots were air-balled, shots were blocked.
Six-foot-11 Koch Bar somehow missed a point-blank breakaway layup. Shots touched every part of the rim and bounced away.
“You feel like you’re in the old Twilight Zone (TV show),” said BU coach Brian Wardle.
By halftime, Bradley was 5-for-33 from the field for 15 percent and had 15 points. On their home court.
The BU record book doesn’t track such 20-minute offensive ineptitude historically. But in the three decades I’ve covered Bradley, I do not recall anything this nauseous at Carver Arena from an experienced team. It rivaled some of the Braves' most underwhelming performances during the lean rebuilding years of Molinari, Les, Ford and Wardle.
It got better in the second half eventually. But not until after Drake, a team that started 1-3 in the Valley and is still reeling from the loss to injury of its heart and soul, point guard Nick Norton, went ahead by 25.
Bradley showed some inspired offense for a stretch and cut it to 16. There were nice second-half recoveries by Elijah Childs, Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye and Luqman Lundy, who did most of the scoring.
Late in the game, freshman Ja’Shon Henry showed up on the court for the first time in the conference season and brought the crowd (announced at 4,654, but not nearly that big) to its feet for a rare moment. Henry made a steal and an ensuing breakaway dunk.
But in the end, there was little for Bradley to feel good about. This was the third league loss in a row at home and two of them were routs. The other was a giveaway in the final minutes.
“We’re in a weird place,” Wardle said. “I’ve never been there as a coach before so I’m learning. The whole model right now is we have to be good teammates to each other. We’re struggling and we can’t beat each other up. There’s enough out there that does that. We have to try to stay positive.
“Guys want to perform well. They work. I’ve tried a lot of different strategies to try to find our confidence. But nothing seems to be working.”
Certainly, Drake deserves some credit. The Bulldogs took advantage of Bradley’s shooting funk by going on a 20-2 spurt to take control.
They showed a balanced offense with Nick McGlynn inside, Bradley Ellingson outside and Tremell Murphy in between. DeVries has brought the Creighton transition game to Des Moines.
“The first half for us set the tone defensively,” said rookie coach Darian DeVries. “I thought we made things tough on ‘em. (Darrell) Brown is such a good player and we made him a priority.”
Indeed, Brown was 2-for-15 from the field with four turnovers. More than ever this year, if you stop Brown, you stop Bradley. And the Valley coaches are quick to exploit that fact.
There aren’t enough scorers to pick him up on an off night.
When asked his thoughts on the team’s performance, Childs was perplexed.
“I’m pretty shocked,” he said. “Nobody thought it would be like this. But we’re working through it. Keep working and stay the course.”
With 13 games left before the MVC tournament, what else can they do?
“I challenge each guy to look at yourselves in the mirror and figure this out,” Wardle said. “We’ve got guys out there I don’t even recognize at times. We can’t let our offensive struggles affect our defensive effort.
“I think I might have exhausted all routes (to escaping the funk). But we’ll figure this out. We’re going to keep showing up and putting the work in.”
Dave Reynolds can be reached at 686-3210 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at davereynolds2.