GAME NOTES: In the first game of the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic the Portland Pilots will match up with the Bradley Braves at the Arena & Equestrian Center in Las Vegas.
Portland's final game before this two-day event went poorly, as it was set down, 72-69, at home against Montana State. The setback broke a three-game wining streak for the Pilots, who are 6-4 overall. A meeting with Princeton awaits Portland in the second part of the Classic.
The struggles the Braves have been dealing with make a single loss not seem so bad. Bradley has fallen in three straight contests and in five of its last six. The trend of losses has pulled the Braves down to 5-5 overall. Next up, they will battle Pacific in Saturday's second round.
Last season Portland escaped with a 57-55 road triumph over Bradley. The win was the second for the Pilots in three all-time meetings.
After Montana State's Marcus Colbert got a layup to fall in the first minute of the second half, tying the game, 32-32, Portland was never able to regain the lead. The Pilots were outscored, 20-10, from the free-throw line to waste a 15-point, 15-rebound double-double from Ryan Nicholas.
Nicholas (13.2 ppg, 10.1 rpg) can be counted on to at least come close to a double-double performance each time he hits the floor. The 6-foot-7 forward has four double-doubles on the season, though he had failed to score in double figures in the two games before facing Montana State. Kevin Bailey (17.6 ppg) is the more consistent scorer for the Pilots. Against the Bobcats he was able to pour in 26 points before fouling out. Thomas van der Mars (12.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg) is also a double digit scoring threat and a strong rebounder. As a team the Pilots are averaging an impressive 80.2 points per game, while connecting on 45.9 percent of their attempts from the floor.
A 3-pointer with 30 seconds to play from IUPU-Fort Wayne's Luis Jacobo was the difference in Bradley's most recent loss. The setback came primarily due to the poor shooting effort the Braves put together (.404). Walt Lemon Jr. and Omari Grier combined for 27 points, but needed 34 shots to do so.
Bradley cannot lay claim to the same type of consistent offensive success as Portland. The Braves are only scoring 69.5 points per game, while shooting just under 45 percent from the field. Lemon (16.9 ppg, 4.1 apg) and Grier (12.6 ppg) are major contributors to the Braves' efforts. However their performances against IPFW were not out of the ordinary. Lemon hits just 40.2 percent of his attempts and Grier has shot a lowly 33.6 percent from the field. Tyshon Pickett (14.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Auston Barnes (9.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg) give the team solid options up front. Depth is not a strength for the Braves, who have no other player scoring more than five points per game.
Bailey's size (6-foot-5) will make him a difficult matchup for the Bradley backcourt. Both teams should be even down low, so an advantage on the wings could decide the outcome.
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