Six days ago Bradley Central laid an egg in a regular-season game against Ooltewah, scoring the fewest points (30) in coach Kent Smith’s 17-year tenure with the Bears in a 14-point loss.
On Sunday, star guard Bryce Copeland “tweaked” his ankle and was hobbled in the days leading up to Thursday’s game against McMinn County in the District 5-AAA basketball tournament at Cleveland High School.
Smith was, with good reason, a bit concerned.
“I didn’t know how our team was going to respond tonight,” Smith said, referring to the Bears’ first game since the disappointing thumping Ooltewah dished out.
As it turned out, there was no need to worry.
The Bears used a half-court 3 at the third-quarter buzzer to steal McMinn County’s momentum and Copeland scored 10 straight points in the fourth as the Bears pulled away to post a 61-47 victory over the Cherokees, who were playing without two starters.
Thursday’s win shoves the fourth-seeded Bears (15-11) into Saturday’s semifinals against bitter rival and No. 2 seed Cleveland (17-9), which opened the tournament with a 69-42 win over Soddy-Daisy on Wednesday.
The win also assured Bradley Central a spot in the Region 3-AAA tournament that starts next week with Cleveland High again serving as the host team.
McMinn County takes a disappointing 9-16 record into the offseason, having lost nine of its last 11 games.
“Elimination games are scary,” Smith said. “You know if you don’t win you’re going home.”
In the earlier girls game, Cleveland’s Lady Blue Raiders forced 37 turnovers and rolled to a 66-31 victory over the overmatched Ooltewah Lady Owls.
The third-seeded Lady Blue Raiders will play No. 2 McMinn County in the semifinals. The Lady Cherokees ripped Soddy-Daisy, 53-29, on Thursday.
McMinn County, which lost all three games to Bradley this season, led 2-0 but never had the upper hand over the remaining 31 minutes and 32 seconds.
The Bears led 22-10 when the opening quarter ended and McMinn’s sophomore point guard Corey Edgemon was on the bench being treated for a twisted ankle. He later returned to the action.
McMinn played without two starters – Bo Marshall and Quintin Versa. Marshall has mononucleosis and Versa missed his third game with a high ankle sprain. He was in a knee-to-toe cast and walking with crutches.
“Bo’s a great defender,” Cherokees coach Keith Elliott said. “Versa is a really good scorer. He had 31 (points), 26 and 22 and turns his ankle. We had to make up for those guys with players who don’t have a lot of experience.”
Edgemon, who shared team scoring honors with 12 points, stands 5-9. Dre Sanders, another guard who was a standout for the Cherokees’ state playoff football team, is 5-8.
The 5-foot-10-inch Copeland, whose vertical leap enables him play much taller, took advantage of McMinn’s lack of perimeter height, hitting his first four 3-point attempts – he had unobstructed looks each time – in a four-plus minute stretch of the first and second quarters.
With a 12-point lead in hand, Copeland – he was held to a season-low three points against Ooltewah – drained back-to-back 3s to stretch the Bears’ lead to 28-13. Bradley’s led 30-17 at halftime.
McMinn County, which held Bradley to a combined 15 points in the middle two quarters, went on a 10-2 run starting the third quarter and pulled within 32-27 with 2:12 left.
The Cherokees cut the deficit to 34-30 on junior Javen Simpson’s goal with 3.2 left, but Bradley junior Baylor Terrell, a reserve guard, threw up a mid-court prayer that banged home at the buzzer and gave the Bears a 37-30 lead at the break.
“That just sucks the air out of you when it happens,” Elliott said. “I thought we had some momentum going right there.”
Terrell brought it back to Bradley.
“That was a huge momentum swing,” Copeland said of Terrell’s shot. For Baylor to hit that shot was big for us in winning the game.”
Copeland, who scored a game-high 24 points, rang up 10 straight points starting the fourth quarter and single-handedly stretched the lead to 47-33 with 5:28 left. Those were Copeland’s final points of the game.
“Bryce is a leader,” Smith said. “He’s a warrior and he’s going to leave a nice legacy in football and basketball at Bradley.”
Bradley outscored McMinn, 13-6, over the final 2:41 – 6-5 post Matt Whitmire had seven of his 11 points in that spurt – and the Bears started turning their attention to the next round.
“It’s nice to come out with the win,” Copeland said. “It’s tournament time and it’s all about surviving and advancing.”
Saturday’s semifinal against Cleveland should be another exciting chapter in a long-running rivalry – in all sports -- between the two schools.
“Both teams know each other really well,” Smith said. “We split during the season. Cleveland is going to be highly motivated by what happened the last time we played them. Bradley-Cleveland in the semifinals: It’s going to be fun.”
Bradley, which has won 10 of its last 13 games, defeated Cleveland, 59-44, on the Blue Raiders’ home court on Jan. 15. The Blue Raiders won at Bradley, 63-61, on Nov. 30.
Ty Jones also scored 12 points for the Cherokees.
Cleveland’s girls beat Ooltewah for the third time and each loss got worse for the offensively challenged Lady Owls – nine points, 15 and then 35 on Thursday.
Ooltewah (5-20) finished the season losing eight of 10 games, scoring fewer than 32 points in five of those losses.
“The biggest thing this season was that we could not generate any offense,” Lady Owls coach Donnie Mullins said.
Ooltewah, playing raggedly the entire game, managed 11 first-half points and trailed Cleveland by 14 points at halftime.
The Lady Owls had more turnovers (13) than points after two quarters.
Cleveland went on a 13-6 run starting the third quarter and opened a 38-17 lead. The margin was 47-23 heading into the final eight minutes of play. In the third, Ooltewah had the same number of points as turnovers – 12.
The Lady Blue Raiders outscored Ooltewah, 19-8, in the fourth period, bringing the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association mercy rule and running clock into play. And the Lady Owls committed 12 more turnovers, giving them nearly 40 for the game.
“Before the game we talked about having to do three things – take care of the basketball, keep them off the offensive glass, and score double figures in every quarter,” Mullins said. “We did none of those things.
“Cleveland was much more physical than us. Our girls have to toughen up and deal with it.”
Sydnie Anderson paced the Lady Blue Raiders with 14 points. Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad scored 13 points and Nora Berry had 10.
“I thought our defense was really good,” Cleveland coach Mindy Kiser said. “We pursued the balls we tipped and got out in transition and had fun. We’ve done a decent job at that in recent games.”
Third-seeded Cleveland (17-8) plays No. 2 McMinn County (18-7) in Saturday’s semifinals at 4:30 p.m. after top-seeded Bradley Central (23-2) plays the winner of Friday night’s Walker Valley-Rhea County game at 3 p.m.
Senior Leondra Barrett led Ooltewah with 10 points.
Ooltewah 3 8 12 8 – 31
Cleveland 13 12 22 19– 66
Ooltewah (31) – Cooper 2, Jones 4, Kennedy 8, Leondra Barrett 10, Featherstone 2, H. Hall 1, Cross 4, Taylor, Jones, Young, Baker, Smith, Dudas, Cain, G. Hall.
Cleveland (66) – Nora Berry 10, Ware 5, Scoggins 8, A. Abdullah-Muhammad 8, Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad 13, Sydnie Anderson 14, Anderson 2, McClendon 6, Ginestri, Capron, Whittemore, Crump, Geren, Phillips.
3-Point Goals – Ooltewah none; Cleveland 2 (Berry, Anderson).
McMinn County 10 7 13 17– 47
Bradley Central 22 8 7 24 – 61
McMinn County (47) – Ty Jones 12, Hayes 7, Sanders 4, Simpson 6, Corey Edgemon 12, Hammonds 4, Martin 2, Sanders, L. Marshall.
Bradley Central (61) – Bryce Copeland 24, Matt Whitmire 11, Cain 6, Terrell 5, Bentley 7, Cox 5, Clark 3.
3-Point Goals – McMinn County 4 (Edgemon 2, Simpson, Hayes); Bradley Central 6 (Copeland 4, Terrell, Cox).
Seeds In Parenthesis
6 p.m. – (5) Rhea County vs. (4) Walker Valley, girls
7:30 p.m. – (5) Rhea County vs. (4) Walker Valley, boys
3 p.m. – (1) Bradley Central girls vs. (4) Walker Valley-(5) Rhea County winner
4:30 p.m. – (3) Cleveland girls vs. (2) McMinn County
6 p.m. – (1) Ooltewah boys vs. (4) Walker Valley-(5) Rhea County winner
7:30 p.m. – (3) Bradley Central boys vs. (2) Cleveland
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)