The No. 9-seeded Southern Illinois University men’s basketball team (12-13, 5-13) knocked off No. 8-seeded Bradley University (12-16, 6-12) 73-63 in the opening game of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament, Arch Madness. The Salukis advance to the quarterfinals and will face No. 1-seeded Loyola March 5 at 11 a.m.
“They played better,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said. “We didn’t have it today. We made a lot of mental mistakes and all of them pretty much cost us today.”
The beginning of the first half was close, with the two teams tied at 14 after the first seven minutes. Southern Illinois began to build a lead shortly after. The Salukis went on an 8-2 run to go up 22-16 and would eventually stretch their lead to eight points with 8:37 left to play in the half.
However, Southern Illinois’ sophomore guard Lance Jones went down with a left ankle injury with 14:22 left in the first half. The Saluki’s second-leading scorer wouldn’t return for the remainder of the game, finishing with six points.
Bradley managed to get within a point of the Salukis near the end of the first half, but Southern Illinois responded with five quick points to take a 38-32 lead into halftime.
Sophomore guard Ben Harvey scored 12 points in the first half for Southern Illinois. As a team, the Salukis shot 50 percent from three-point territory in the opening half. Bradley went 33.3 percent from downtown in the period.
“When [Harvey’s] aggressive, and he’s playing downhill like that, with really good pace on both sides of the ball, that’s when he’s had his best games this year for us,” Southern Illinois head coach Bryan Mullins said. “He’s got the ability to score the ball. He saw those first couple go in and he just stayed aggressive throughout the night.”
After halftime, the Salukis stretched their lead to double digits for the first time, leading 42-32 with 18:44 remaining in the game. Southern Illinois held a comfortable lead for the majority of the half. The Braves cut their deficit to five points with 2:04 left to play, but they couldn’t complete the comeback. Southern Illinois went 7-for-8 from the free throw line in the final two minutes to hold off Bradley and win by 10.
Harvey followed up a strong start with another 12 points in the second half to give him 24 for the game. Three other Salukis scored in double figures. Sophomore guard Trent Brown added 13 points, first-year center Kyler Filewich scored 12 and sophomore guard Steven Verplancken put up 10.
The Braves were led by redshirt freshman forward Rienk Mast’s second career double-double with a career-high 24 points — including 16 in the second half — and 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Sean East II finished with 16 points.
“Yeah, today is just a day where you leave it all out there,” Mast said. “You know? Well, I hope I did. And I felt like some guys didn’t show up.”
The Braves were two-time defending MVC Tournament champions but entered this year’s tournament severely shorthanded. Seniors Elijah Childs, Danya Kingsby and junior Terry Nolan Jr. were suspended for “a violation of program standards” and were named in a police report in Springfield, Missouri. The trio hasn’t played since Feb. 10.
Bradley junior forward Ja’Shon Henry was named in the police report, but was later cleared and reinstated. However, Henry was out for the game against the Salukis with an ankle injury. Childs, Nolan Jr. and Henry were Bradley’s top-three scorers, respectively, and the only three Braves to average double figures this season.
Looking ahead for Southern Illinois, the Salukis have a quick turnaround against the top-seeded Ramblers. Southern Illinois ended the regular season with a pair of losses against the Ramblers at Gentile Arena. However, the Salukis took Loyola to overtime in the second game before losing by seven.
“We felt that we should have at least split when we went down in Chicago,” Harvey said. “And you know, we’re looking forward to this match. We just have to take care of the ball. And you know, play great team defense and get open shots.”
Loyola and Southern Illinois tip-off at 11 a.m. on Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports Kansas City and NBC Sports Chicago.