Boyd-Buchanan came into Thursday’s Best of Preps basketball tournament unbeaten yet still probably an underdog to Baylor, which won the Rhea County Holiday Hoops Shootout with three successive impressive performances last week.
The Bucs are still undefeated. And the Red Raiders have lost some steam.
Austin Walker scored a game-high 13 points and the Bucs used an 8-2 run in the third quarter to erase a seven-point deficit and beat the Red Raiders, 41-39 at Chattanooga State.
The Bucs (11-0) will play Ooltewah in Friday’s semifinals at 8:30 p.m. for the right to advance to Saturday’s championship game. The Owls got balanced scoring – four players were in double figures – in overcoming a sluggish start and crushed Ringgold, 83-54, in the nightcap on Thursday’s eight-game card.
Baylor (6-3) played tenacious defense and methodical offense in limiting Sequatchie County, Glenwood (the defending Class 3A private school state champion in Alabama) and Franklin County to a combined 43 points per game and Matt Clendenen scored 70 points to earn the tournament’s MVP award.
Boyd-Buchanan hasn’t won 11 straight games to open the season by just playing well offensively. The Bucs can throw a little defense as opponents too.
“Last year one of our big mistakes was being too concerned about offense,” Bucs coach Cole Rose said. “There were times that if we didn’t shoot well we didn’t stand a very good chance of winning the game. This year we’ve retooled and no matter how we shoot, we’re going to play good enough defense to win.”
That’s exactly what happened.
Baylor shot miserably from the field and the Bucs had a lot to do with that. But even when the Red Raiders had open looks – some within spitting distance of the hoop – they couldn’t make shots when they needed them most.
”(Boyd-Buchanan) did a good job defensively, we lost our patience, didn’t give ourselves a chance to find openings and were taking some real bad shots,” Baylor coach Austin Clark said. “I didn’t think we played very well as a team. We didn’t share the ball like we’d been doing.”
Clendenen, who averaged 23 points in the Rhea County tournament, had three points at halftime and finished with 10. Sammy Lupas and Amedeo Giussani each scored 11 points for Baylor, which was held to 17 second-half points.
Boyd-Buchanan wasn’t exactly burning up the nets, but the Bucs showed stared down the Red Raiders in the fourth quarter of a tight ballgame.
Nursing a 32-29 lead after three quarters, the Bucs got buckets by Walker and Zack Jenkins to push the lead to 36-29. Baylor’s Amedeo Gissuani drilled a 3 from the left wing, but Walker answered with a layup.
Clendenen made a free throw, Giussani hit a field goal and Lupas capped an 8-2 run with a driving layup to pull the Red Raiders within at point at 38-37.
Q.D. Cox’s layup 34 seconds after Lupas’ at the other end extended the Bucs’ lead to 40-37.
Clendenen made two free throws with 2:01 remaining.
Walker hit a free throw with 14.4 on the clock, but missed his second opportunity, Baylor got the ball and Gage Upshaw’s contested 3-pointer at the buzzer was no good.
“I don’t know how much our defense bothered them,” Rose said, “but I was happy with the way we performed. I was happy where we were and when we were there. That probably took a few things away from them.
“On the other end, they forced us into a lot of stuff we didn’t like either. For a basketball purist, that was a great game to watch.”
The Bucs had an early lead, but after Jenkins’ free throw failed to score over the final 3:09 of the first quarter and trailed 11-10 after one period.
Boyd-Buchanan outscored Baylor 10-3 to open the second quarter, but the Red Raiders managed to cut the deficit to 22-19 going into halftime.
Baylor was down 28-23 in the third quarter, but Clendenen two free throws, Upshaw hit a lane jumper and Clendenen came back with two more free throws to give the Red Raiders a 29-28 lead with 3:31 left in the period.
“All I was thinking was get (the lead) back,” Walker said. “We’re a very confident team. We’ve got seven guys who can score the ball and seven guys that play great defense, so I was not worried one single bit when they got the lead. This shows we’re a very good team that can play with anybody.”
Justus McMillan made two free throws and Walker hit 1-of-3 – he was fouled on a 3-point attempt – and the Bucs had a 32-29 advantage eight minutes to play.
“When they got the lead there in the third quarter we talked about not stressing too much about the offense and remember in tight games you have to get stops,” Cole said. “We had enough of a lead late that if we got stops the rest of the way we were going to be OK.”
Ooltewah hadn’t played since enduring a sloppy loss at Bradley Central on Dec. 13.
Apparently, the bad taste of their embarrassing play against the Bears was still lingering when they took the court against Ringgold.
The Tigers (5-6) jumped out front and had a 16-13 lead after one quarter.
Then the Owls woke up.
Senior Ben Snider capped a strong eight-minute stretch with a 3 at the buzzer and Ooltewah went into halftime with a 35-24 lead.
The Owls (7-3) went on a 13-4 run to start the third quarter – C.J. Fritz scored six points in the spurt – and built a 48-28 advantage.
Late in the quarter Jarek Boyd’s field goal and free throw sandwiched a basket by Kile Sholl and the Owls’ lead was 53-34. Early in the final period Boyd scored three straight points to give Ooltewah a 63-40 cushion and stretched the margin to 73-46 on Fritz’s layup at the 3:00 mark.
“We didn’t play that well in the first half,” said Jamycal Johnson, who led the Owls with a career-high 20 points. “In the second half we had to play some defense. We practiced every day since that loss to Bradley and played a whole lot better tonight.”
Coach Andre Montgomery agreed.
“That first half tonight was similar to our really bad fourth quarter against Bradley Central,” he said. “My guys were trying hard, working hard, but it has been a long layoff and that was on their minds. I got on them at halftime, and coach (Jesse) Nayadley got on them too.
“It’s a good thing to have a great head coach sitting over there beside me.”
Nayadley, a veteran coach, is now the school’s assistant principal and athletic director and is likely to turn the reins over to Montgomery next season. A volunteer assistant under Nayadley for four years, Montgomery became a full-time faculty member when Nayadley received his promotions earlier in the school year.
Snider and Fritz each scored 16 points and Boyd added 12 in the blowout victory.
Dakota Baer paced the Tigers (5-6) with 11 points and Jordan Ransom scored 10.
Boyd-Buchanan 10 14 8 9 – 41
Baylor 11 8 10 10 – 39
Boyd-Buchanan (41) – Allen 7, Arendale, McMillan 8, Cox 2, Austin Walker 13, Jenkins 9, Jeremiah Nason 2.
Baylor (39) – Brogdon 3, Matt Clendenen 10, Upshaw 4, King, Sammy Lupas 11, Amadeo Giussani 11.
3-Point Goals: Boyd-Buchanan 2 (Allen, McMillan); Baylor 3 (Brogdon, Clendenen, Giussani).
Ooltewah 13 22 23 23 – 83
Ringgold 16 8 15 15 – 54
Ooltewah (83) – Jaymcal Johnson 20, Jarek Boyd 12, Ron King 3, Ben Snider 16, C.J. Fritz 16, Ross, Montgomery 6, Turner, Williams 8, Wooten, Hughes, Freeman 2, Strickland, Cothran.
Ringgold (54) – J. Roach 7, J.T. Roach 4, Sholl 9, Dean 5, Wilkey 6, Jordan Ransom 10, Sosebee 2, Brown, Dakota Baker 11.
3-Point Goals: Ooltewah 4 (Johnson, King, Snider, Williams); Ringgold 2 (J. Roach, Wilkey).
10 a.m. – East Hamilton girls vs. Lookout Valley
11:30 a.m. – Grace Academy boys vs. McCallie
1 p.m. Tyner girls vs. Signal Mountain
2:30 p.m. – Ringgold boys vs. Baylor
4 p.m. – Brainerd girls vs. GPS
5:30 p.m. Notre Dame boys vs. Tyner
7 p.m. – Heritage girls vs. Baylor
8:30 p.m. – Ooltewah boys vs. Boyd-Buchanan
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)