After the final horn sounded in 13th-seeded Bradley's 72-66 upset of fifth-seeded Pittsburgh, the Braves acknowledged the faithful who made the trip from Peoria, Ill.
"It was a great feeling because the fans have been with us all year," said sophomore center Patrick O'Bryant, who led all scorers with a career-high 28 points. "We wouldn't have been able to do a lot without their help and support, constant cheering and giving the other team garbage, whatever they do."
Bradley, which made 26 of 32 free throws, gave its fans a second straight victory over a Top 25 team. Friday night, the Braves took care of No. 12 Kansas. Yesterday, it was No. 16 Pitt's turn.
"I thought they were really a tough team and got after it," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We knew that coming into the game and we know it now."
The victory put Bradley (22-10) in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1955. It is the first time the Missouri Valley Conference has had two teams in the final 16, as the Braves joined Wichita State, which got in Saturday. Bradley will play Memphis on Thursday in Oakland, Calif..
"This is great for the Missouri Valley Conference," said senior Lawrence "Boogie" Wright, who had 14 points off the bench. "They can't say that we're overrated or we got too many bids or whatever."
O'Bryant, a 7-footer, was matched against Pitt's 7-0 Aaron Gray and got the best of him. Bradley went to O'Bryant from the start, and he scored on a variety of shots. He grabbed seven rebounds, three offensive. He also was eight of nine from the free-throw line, including six of six in the last 2:11.
Bradley broke quickly, but Pitt (25-8) fought to within 30-29 at the half. The Panthers opened the second half with baskets by Carl Krauser and Gray to take a 33-30 lead. The Braves were down 35-34 when Gray was called for a five-second violation. The junior slammed the ball high into the air, drawing a technical.
Marcellus Sommerville, who had 18 points, made both free throws and Bradley went on a 9-0 run. The Braves outscored the Panthers 19-4 in less than eight minutes to take control.
Reid Hanley writes for the Chicago Tribune.