Bradley grabs second successive MVC Tournament crown

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Bradley guard Darrell Brown was not happy with his selection to the Missouri Valley Conference all-league second team earlier in week.

He displayed his displeasure in a big way on Sunday.

Brown scored 21 points and Elijah Childs added 17 to lead fourth-seeded Bradley to its 10th NCAA Tournament with an 80-66 win over seventh-seeded Valparaiso in the MVC championship game.

Ja’Shon Henry scored 16 points for the Braves, Nate Kennell chipped in with 14 points and Ville Tahvanainen added 10.

Javon Freeman-Liberty paced Valparaiso with 22 points and 10 rebounds.

Bradley (23-11) claimed its fourth MVC title and became the ninth team in history to defend its tournament crown

Brown, who came into the contest averaging 15.3 points per game, was certain he deserved first-team honors.

The perceived snub bothered him.

Bradley coach Brian Wardle made sure to keep Brown properly motivated. He jokingly called Brown, “second-team,” at every opportunity during the days leading up to the contest.

“In the hotel he kept calling me that,” Brown said. “I thought it was funny. But, I’m a self-driven person. He really didn’t have to do that. I felt disrespected. So, I took upon myself to prove everybody wrong.”

Wardle’s actions paid off.

“He came in with a chip on his shoulder and he proved it,” Wardle said. “There’s nothing better than when you see true hard work pay off. He let everyone see what he was made of — it was great.”

Brown hit on six of 14 shots including a 4 of 6 effort from 3-point range. He kick-started a 38-18 run over the final 12 minutes and 2 seconds with a jumper that the game 49-all. His 3-pointer later in the run pushed the lead to 62-52. He also added nine assists.

“He can carry us when he gets hot like that,” Childs said.

Valparaiso (19-16) led 48-42 before the Braves took charge,

Bradley rallied from an 18-point second-half deficit to beat Northern Iowa 57-54 in last year’s MVC final.

The six-point hole on Sunday was nothing for the Braves, who have played well down the stretch over the past month.

“It’s one possession at a time and everyone contributing,” Brown said. “It’s not like we panic when we get down. We knew what we had to do and we did it.”’

Tahvanainen hit a big 3-pointer to cap off a 7-0 run that put the Braves ahead for good 56-51.

Valparaiso used a 9-2 blitz over the last 3:37 of the first half to take a 38-36 lead into the break.

“We’ve got a locker room full of guys that just laid it out on the line,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. “When you give your hearts into something and it doesn’t work out, it hurts.”

The Braves were a 15th-seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament and lost to Michigan State 76-65 in the opening round.

“I already told the guys, “this is the year we want to go make some noise,” Wardle said.

Bradley’s 23 victories is the most since the 1993-94 team went 23-8 under coach Jim Molinari.

BIG PICTURE

Valparaiso: The Crusaders, in their third season in the MVC, will be hoping for an NIT or other berth.

Bradley: The Braves, located in Peoria, Illinois, seem to thrive in the underdog role. They were seeded fifth when they upset Northern Iowa in last year’s championship game.

“We like it better when no one expects anything from us,” Childs said.

LONG STRETCH

Valparaiso played its fourth game in as many days for the first time in its post-season tournament history.

“I wouldn’t blame it all on fatigue,” Freeman-Liberty said.

The Crusaders won the Horizon League championship in 2015 with a 54-44 win over Green Bay.