EAST LANSING, M.I. — With 2.8 seconds left in the game and the Bradley Braves leading 72-69, senior tri-captain Ray Mercedes inbounded the ball to a waiting sophomore David Muller at the top of the key. Having the chance to send the game into overtime, his jump shot circled around the rim and fell out at the buzzer.
“The play was always to go to David,” sophomore forward Jake Rohe said. “I thought that it was in.”
After a blowout Michigan State-Cornell game the night earlier, the Red returned to the Breslin Center on Saturday to face a more equally matched competitor in the Braves.
Cornell quickly dug itself into a hole, trailing from the start. The Bradley tandem of Jerome Robinson and Phillip Gilbert were able to dissect the Red and the sluggish start.
The team shot a measly 26.1% field goal percentage in the first half, with an inordinate number of attempts coming from three-point range. Of the six shots made in the first half, three were for three points.
More trouble came for the Red when senior tri-captain center Greg Barratt amassed three quick fouls. Without the 6’9″ Barratt to get into the post, Cornell had to depend on its perimeter shooting.
“We’ve got to go inside way more often so we don’t have to rely on the outside shot,” head coach Steve Donahue said.
Gilbert headed the Bradley attack going hitting six-for-seven and four-for-five from beyond the arc.
The game went into half-time with Bradley winning 35-25.
Bradley’s lead grew as the Red looked out of synch for the first five minutes. The Braves went on a 11-2 run to give them their largest lead of the game, 46-27.
Freshman guard Ka’Ron Barnes hit his two free throws to give Cornell its first points of the half at 14:56. Before that point, the Red already had five team fouls, including four on Barratt.
Then Cornell decided to wake up.
Spawned by a 7 point and 4 rebound spurt from Rohe, the Red went on a 23-2 run. The 19 point deficit, quickly faded to a 48-48 tie on a Cuttica jumper from the perimeter. The performance form the Red is the largest come back in MSU tournament history.
“Coach told us that we were embarrassing ourselves, our program and our school,” Rohe said.
“We were able to pick it up a notch. We began to play hard, and when we play hard, our shots drop,” he added.
Cornell kept getting itself in foul trouble though. Although the Red would tie Bradley once again at 50 on a Barratt lay-up, it played catch-up for the remaining 7:23.
Bradley shot 6-for-20 in the second half, but was also able to make 23 of its 26 free throws to keep it on top of the Red. Mercedes and senior tri-captain guard Kevin Cuttica both had 4 personal fouls, while Barratt fouled out 1:18 left.
The Red almost made the complete upset, but the Red had neither time nor luck, for one more heroic feat.
“We’re not ready to win that game at this point in our program,” Donahue said. “I can’t tell you how proud I was of those guys during that stretch. We still have to learn how to pick it up a step and learn how to win that game.”
The Red finished fourth and last in the Spartan Coca-Cola Classic. Although it saw a strong performance from both Barnes and Rohe, Cornell failed to place any of its players on the all-tournament team comprised of Michigan State’s Charlie Bell, Andre Hutson, Jason Richardson, and Bradley’s Gilbert and Robinson.
The Red will benefit from its experience as it faces conference competition.
Archived article by Amanda Angel