Billy Lange could probably have had an easier game for his debut at St. Joseph’s.
Bradley was picked to finish second in the Missouri Valley Conference (with 5 first-place votes), and returned its top three scorers from last season’s squad that reached the NCAA Tournament. CBS Sports’ preseason ranking of every team in Division I pegged the Braves at a respectable No. 133 (and the Hawks at No. 263).
But the Hawks stepped up to the challenge, delivering a feisty 86-81 win at Hagan Arena that had much of the crowd of 2,068 chanting Lange’s name after the final buzzer. Athletic director Jill Bodensteiner gave Lange a game ball in a ceremony on the court, and players doused him with bottled water in the locker room.
In addition to being the first game since Phil Martelli’s departure, it was Lange’s first game as a head coach since March 2, 2011. In the years since, he assisted Jay Wright at Villanova and Brett Brown at the 76ers.
“It felt like a long time, but I felt ready because of what Brett [Brown] has allowed me to do for the last four or five years,” Lange said.
Redshirt junior Ryan Daly led all scorers with 26 points in his first game since transferring from Delaware and sitting out last season. Myles Douglas, a transfer from Central Florida who got immediate eligibility, added 18.
At the other end of the floor, the Hawks cranked up their defense in the second half, holding Bradley to just 28.6% field goal shooting.
“I’m happy we could do it for [Lange],” said Daly, whose grandfather Jim Boyle played and coached at St. Joe’s and whose dad, Brian played on Hawk Hill under Boyle. “I hadn’t played a game since right around when the Eagles won the Super Bowl, so it’s been a while. ... I was nervous all day thinking about it, but I’m really excited that we could pull this out.”
There were just eight players in the rotation all night, as forward Anthony Longpré had to miss the contest due to strep throat.
“We’re not healthy, so we’re not close to a finished product,” Lange said. “But what they do is they fight, and they like each other, and they’re proud to put that jersey on. And that matters a lot."