Braves face tall task in MVC semifinals against Panthers

Mar 6, 2015 - 3:28 PM St. Louis, MO ( - After scoring a minor upset on Thursday night, the Bradley Braves have been rewarded with a meeting against 11th- ranked Northern Iowa in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at Scottrade Center on Friday night.

For the second time in the last three outings Bradley, the 10th seed in this year's tourney, was forced to go to overtime on Thursday night, but unlike the squad's three-overtime loss to Missouri State last week it was able to pull off a 52-50 victory against seventh-seeded Drake in the opening round of the tournament and advance.

Over on the other side, the second-seeded Panthers were awarded a bye through to the quarterfinals after matching top-seeded Wichita State in overall record this season, but finishing second in the league standings (16-2) after bowing to the Shockers in the regular-season finale last Saturday (74-60) on the road.

With only two conference defeats in 18 opportunities, it should not comes as a surprise that UNI won both meetings against the Braves. The first of those triumphs came on the road in January by a score of 63-52, followed by a more forceful 56-39 decision at home just a few weeks ago.

UNI has won all but three of the last 17 encounters, including three victories in tournament play, yet Bradley still holds a 28-26 advantage in the all-time series dating back more than four decades.

With regard to this event specifically, the Panthers have won the title three times, most recently with a 67-52 romp over Wichita State in 2010, and have a record of 16-19 over the years. Bradley, which has been in it over the long haul, is 30-33 and has a pair of championships, although the last of those was way back in 1988.

The winner of this game will clash with the survivor of the Loyola- Chicago/Indiana State battle in the semifinals on Saturday.

For the second game in a row, the Braves scored just 52 points, the only difference being that this time the team came out on top as Tramique Sutherland nailed a pair of free throws with 2.7 seconds remaining in overtime to give Bradley a thrilling victory over the Drake Bulldogs on Thursday night. Sutherland finished with nine points, trailing only Auston Barnes and Nate Wells who delivered 13 and 10 points, respectively, for a squad that came out on top despite shooting just 33.9 percent from the floor and 6-of-20 beyond the arc.

Sutherland has appeared in just 23 of the team's 32 games this season, but has become one of the more reliable offensive producers with his 11.7 ppg, although he has shot just 36.0 percent from the field. Then again, the team as a whole has been rather poor from the floor with just 37.7 percent accuracy overall and only 30.1 percent shooting behind the 3-point line.

Led by MVC Coach of the Year Ben Jacobson, the Panthers are a formidable foe no matter what team is lining up against them. While the squad ended up with just a single player on the All-MVC First Team, Seth Tuttle also secured the Larry Bird Player of the Year Award as he scored in double figures in all but four games this season. In conference play he did it all, from scoring (16.7 ppg), to rebounding (6.9 rpg) and passing (60 assists), with each of those efforts leading UNI.

While the team didn't have any other player average in double figures during league action, it would be foolish to overlook the contributions of Deon Mitchell (7.4 ppg, 43 assists), who shot 57.5 percent beyond the arc, and Wes Washpun (5.8 ppg, 46 assists), who was named the MVC Newcomer of the Year for a squad that held league foes to a mere 52.2 ppg on 38.6 percent shooting from the floor.

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