“You’ve got to get up every morning with determination if you’re going to bed with satisfaction.” – George Lorimer
CLEVELAND, Tenn. – The “why” of Bradley Central’s basketball victory over Ooltewah on Thursday was crystal clear to participants from both teams.
The Bears wanted the win more than the Owls.
With sophomore Daniel Clark and senior Bryce Copeland combining for 30 points, Bradley Central kept Ooltewah scoreless for the final 2 minutes, 29 seconds and captured the Region 3-AAA tournament championship with a hard-fought 60-56 victory at Cleveland High School.
“With Ooltewah beating us last year for the region championship and twice this year, our guys were hungry,” Bears coach Kent Smith said. “When you get to tournament time the team that wants it the most is going to get it.”
The last time Ooltewah (19-10) led was at 12-9 on Jacqueze Robinson’s 3 midway through the first quarter. Between then and the final buzzer, the Bears (19-12) gutted out the victory by outhustling, outrebounding and doing all the little things more efficiently than the Owls.
“They wanted it more than we did,” Owls coach Jesse Nayadley said, “and that’s a problem, something as coaches we have to fix. But the players have to take ownership of that, too. It’s a region championship game and you’ve got to show up with effort.”
More specifically, Nayadley said, “We didn’t play with smart effort. It’s not that we didn’t give effort or work hard, but all we did was chase. The two previous times we played them this year we got up in their face and made them uncomfortable. We did it probably six or seven times tonight and they probably had four or five turnovers.
“The rest of the time we just chased them around, let them make passes and make shots.”
Both teams earned sub-state berths by reaching the title game.
Bradley Central, which captured its first region title since 2007 – that year was also the Bears’ last appearance in the state tournament, will host Siegel (27-5) on Monday at 7 p.m. in Jim Smiddy Arena.
“We worked our butts off for this,” Copeland said. “They got us last year in the region championship game and made us travel. This year we got the win and made them have to travel and see what it’s like.”
In 2012, the Bears played at Blackman in the sub-state game and lost, 38-36, on a controversial technical foul call.
Ooltewah must travel to Blackman (29-0) in Murfreesboro. That tipoff will be at 8 p.m. EST. Blackman beat Siegel, 60-56, in overtime for the Region 4-AAA championship.
Blackman defeated Siegel four times this season. Siegel’s only other loss was to Independence, 74-67.
“It’s a tough assignment,” Nayadley said of facing the unbeaten Warriors, who haven’t lost since dropping a 57-56 decision to Memphis East in last year’s state tournament quarterfinals. “One positive for us, usually, is the harder the environment the better we play. So, we’ll go up there and see what happens.”
Said Smith: “I saw Blackman during the summer and they’re the real deal. But the team coming in here on Monday will be a great team and we’ll have to play our best to win.”
A second straight trip to the state tournament following a 32-year hiatus hinges on the Owls turning in a superlative performance at Blackman.
Nayadley is growing weary of his team’s roller coaster season.
“This is the most up-and-down team I’ve ever had,” he said. “We weren’t the same team tonight that beat Walker Valley (69-57 in Tuesday’s semifinals). “We prepared the same, practiced the same, but something was missing tonight.”
Bradley Central, 8-3 against Ooltewah in the postseason, fell behind 4-0 but got back-to-back 3s by Copeland to tie the game at 6-6. Ooltewah’s Jacqueze Robinson sandwiched 3s around one by Clark and Taylor Bentley’s 3 shoved the Bears into a 12-12 tie.
With the Owls up 15-12 on Daaron Maston’s 3-pointer, the Bears, playing without starter Caleb Cain and reserve Dee Crisp due to illness, scored the final nine points and had a 23-15 lead at the first break.
“That first quarter hurt us,” said Nayadley, 18-9 in postseason play, “but we were able to battle back from that.”
Bradley Central enjoyed a 31-27 halftime lead, thanks to Logan Cox’s 3 from the left wing with 0.1 seconds on the clock.
Robinson’s 3 pulled the Owls within 34-33 in the third quarter, but the Bears enjoyed a 44-38 advantage with 1:05 left in the quarter. Copeland’s running back shot at the buzzer gave Bradley a 46-40 cushion heading into the final eight minutes.
“We avoided any big runs they could make and rebounded,” said Smith, 427-144, including 73-29 in the postseason, in 17 years with the Bears. “We limited them to one-and-done most of the time on the boards. We did the things we needed to do to win.”
Matt Whitmire and Copeland made shots to extend the Bears’ lead to 50-40 just 54 seconds into the final period.
Ooltewah scored 10 of the game’s next 14 points and climbed back into the fray at 54-52 with 3:57 left. Antonio Jackson and Jacqueze Robinson, who scored 20 and 19 points, respectively, each made 3-pointers in that stretch.
Clark, a sophomore who scored 13 points in Bradley’s 63-55 semifinal win over rival Cleveland, converted a three-point play to give the Bears a 57-52 cushion.
Robinson hit a 10-foot bank shot on the run and later drove the lane for a layup and suddenly the Owls with threatening the Bears, trailing 57-56, with 2:29 remaining.
That was, however, the last time Ooltewah scored.
The Bears’ Taylor Bentley, who had a team-high seven assists dropped in a layup and Copeland made 1-of-2 free throws for the final margin, sending the Bradley players into a celebration near mid-court.
“This is the best feeling I’ve had in my career,” Copeland said. “To play a great team like Ooltewah and come out on top, I’m almost speechless. It was a great game and we’re fortunate to win and host a sub-state game. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get to the state tournament. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Copeland and Clark each scored 15 points for the Bears – they combined to make 12-of-26 shots. Whitmire scored 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds, seven off the defensive glass.
Jackson and Robinson were the only Ooltewah players with double-figure scoring.
Jackson was bothered by the fact Bradley outhustled the Owls, who won last year’s title game against Bradley, 60-58, after losing to the Bears in the District 5-AAA championship game, 64-58.
“Yeah,” he said. “We’ve been preparing for this game a long time. Coach has been telling us that all the other games were to get us ready for this one. We didn’t get the job done tonight. We never did step up on defense.”
Ooltewah 15 12 13 11 – 56
Bradley Central 23 8 15 14 – 60
Ooltewah (56) – Antonio Jackson 20, Jacqueze Robinson 19, Ware 6, Snider 4, Maston 7, Bass, King.
Bradley Central (60) – Daniel Clark 15, Bryce Copeland 15, Cox 7, Bentley 8, Terrell 5, Matt Whitmire 10.
3-Point Goals: Ooltewah 7 (Robinson 4, Jackson 2, Maston); Bradley Central 8 (Clark 2, Copeland 2, Bentley 2, Cox, Terrell).
Bradley Central – Bryce Copeland, Daniel Clark, Logan Cox
Ooltewah – Antonio Jackson, Jacqueze Robinson, Daaron Maston
Cleveland – C.J. Bryant, Jahmal Johnson
Walker Valley – Caio Hysinger, Lukas Korn
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)