ST. CHARLES, Mo. -- Five Bradley players scored in double figures, led by Shronda Butts' team-high 17 points as the Braves pulled away down the stretch to top Southern Illinois 85-67 in the opening round of the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Thursday at The Family Arena.
Bradley (17-14 overall) never trailed in the contest and picked up its third straight win and fourth victory in the last six games with the 85-67 win over Southern Illinois, which finished the year with an 8-22 record. The Braves will play regular-season MVC champion Missouri State Friday at noon in the quarterfinals of the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
Butts tied a school MVC Tournament record for made free throws, making 11-of-12 from the line and scored in double figures for the fifth time in the last six games. Raisa Taylor also made 11 free throws in a Valley Tournament game against Evansville on March 14, 2009.
Southern Illinois tied the game at 47-47 early in the second half and trailed 60-56 with 9:44 to play when Bradley made a final push to put the game out of reach. Sophomore Kelsey Budd (Prairie du Sac, Wis./Sauk Prairie) hit a three-pointer to give Bradley a seven-point advantage (63-56) to make it a three possession game.
BU's lead was eight points (69-61) with 6:53 remaining when back-to-back hoops by sophomore Catie O'Leary (Janesville, Wis./Parker/Wisconsin) sparked a 10-3 Bradley spurt to help the Braves extend the lead to 15 points.
Freshman Michelle Young (Woodbury, Minn,/Woodbury) followed a SIU miss with a hoop and Budd made a pair of free throws with 3:18 to play. Senior Leah Kassing (Mt. Sterling, Ill./Brown County) gave BU a 79-64 lead with a basket following a MacKenzie Westcott (Williamsburg, Iowa/Williamsburg) steal to end the run.
Butts, who made her final eight free attempts, was a perfect 4-for-4 from the line in the final minute to put the finishing touches on Bradley's first-ever MVC Tournament win against the Salukis. BU won its ninth consecutive game against SIU and earned its 11th victory in the last 12 in the series.
Bradley held a one-point lead (23-22) at the five-minute mark in the first half, before using a 12-2 run over a three-minute stretch to build a 35-24 lead with two minutes in the opening period. Young scored five of her season-high 12 points during the run, capping the spurt with a three-pointer.
Southern Illinois heated up from long range to close the half, making three three-pointers during the final 90 seconds to trim the BU advantage to six points (39-33) at the break. After opening the game 5-for-17 from the field, Bradley made 11-of-17 to close the first half.
O'Leary joined Butts in double figures with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting to go with eight rebounds, while Budd added 14 points, four assists and three steals. Kassing moved up three spots on Bradley's career scoring list into 26th with a 13-point effort and Young was 5-for-6 from the field to finish with season highs of 12 points and three steals off the bench.
WIRL 1290 AM will carry Friday's noon game against Missouri State in the Peoria area, with the pre-game show starting at 11:40 a.m. The Missouri Valley Conference website (www.mvc-sports) will provide a free video stream.