NEWS

Braves aren't Bulldogs when it matters most

KIRK WESSLER

Ten seconds.

Everything you need to know about the opposite directions Bradley’s and Drake’s basketball seasons are headed, you could see in the final 10 seconds of their game Wednesday night at Carver Arena.

Trailing by one point, Drake got three shots. Not one. Not two. Three.

Three!

Spectacular, if you’re Drake. Unforgiveable, if you’re Bradley.

Three shots. Every one of them by the same 6-foot-1 senior guard who had scored a grand total of 57 points in his bit-playing career before this season.

Drake and Adam Emmenecker did exactly what Bradley coach Jim Les expected them to do in those final 10 seconds: Spread the floor, drive to the basket and crash the board.

But his Braves were unable to stop them.

Emmenecker drove the lane and missed his first shot, but got his own rebound after multiple other hands were unable to corral it. He missed his second shot, but wound up with the ball again after Bradley’s Matt Salley had slapped it out of heavy traffic. Emmenecker’s third try dropped through the net as the buzzer sounded on a 69-68 Drake victory.

Three shots in 10 seconds.

“That’s kind of unheard of,” Emmenecker said.

With good reason.

Because it should never happen. Never. Never. Never.

But that’s the kind of season Drake is having. The Bulldogs are not an imposing team, by any stretch of the imagination. They are, however, confident, scrappy, resourceful, tough and now 14 games into a winning streak that puts their record at 15-1, 6-0 in the Missouri Valley.

“Success breeds success,” Les said of the Bulldogs. “They’re just finding ways to win, and that’s what happens when you get on a roll like that.”

Meanwhile, Bradley’s season continues to roll downhill, at least in terms of the won-lost record. The Braves have now lost five in a row at home in the same season for the first time since 1955 and seven of their last eight games overall, in part because they allow opponents to do things that should never happen. Never. Never. Never.

If you’re a Bradley fan, you were hoping against hope that the Braves would stop Drake cold in those final 10 seconds. But you knew they wouldn’t, and here’s why.

Drake was making all the hustle plays. And when Bradley had its hands around Drake’s throat, taking a 61-54 lead with 3:46 to play, the Braves released and Drake made all but two points of that advantage vanish in 16 seconds.

Bradley had the lead, but Drake had control. Almost all Bradley did after that was hang on and wish the clock would hurry up.

We say “almost” because there was one particularly bright spot in Braveland. Freshman guard Sam Maniscalco played another heady, hard-nosed game, scoring 13 points, grabbing 6 rebounds and dishing 7 assists. He made big plays, hustle plays, fearless plays. Like grabbing a defensive rebound while shoving a bigger opponent out of his way while airborn, then driving the ball the length of the court to make a layup, draw a foul and complete an old-fashioned three-point play. And like giving Bradley its last lead, 68-67, with a 3-point shot on which his body language was shouting loud and clear: /ITAL/Give me the ball and I’ll give us the lead!/NM/

But there is not enough toughness like that on this team.

Yes, the Braves are tougher than when they dropped their shoulders and hung their heads and offered token challenges in the first days after senior co-captain Daniel Ruffin went down with his sports hernia.

But they’re not yet tough enough.

KIRK WESSLER is Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist. Contact him at (309) 686-3216 or kwessler@pjstar.com.