Ooltewah felt like it let a win slip away at Bradley Central in December.
The Owls were prepared to deny the Bears a regular-season sweep Monday night at Ed Foster Gymnasium.
Ben Snider and Jaymcal Johnson each scored 21 points, Jarek Boyd added 16 and Ooltewah used a blend of zone and man-to-man defenses to throttle Bradley Central, 75-58, to nail down the No. 2 seed for the District 5-AAA tournament that begins – weather permitting – Wednesday at East Hamilton High.
In the girls’ game, Bradley Central clobbered Ooltewah for the second time this season with a 77-31 rout that ended with a running clock in the fourth period. The Bearettes whipped the Lady Owls, 74-19, in December.
After Monday’s win, the Owls (14-9, 9-3) move on and will open the tournament against No. 7 seed McMinn County at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
“My guys are playing with heart and passion right now,” Owls coach Andre Montgomery said. “If we continue to do that, we’ll be OK. We still made some mistakes tonight, but we weren’t pouting about it. And we didn’t let outside stuff bother us.”
The Owls played without starter C.J. Fritz, who was involved in “an incident” after the Cleveland game on Friday. Montgomery said he is still gathering information before having a meeting with administrators to determine Fritz’s fate.
As the No. 1 seed, Bradley Central has a bye into Saturday’s semifinals and will play the Soddy-Daisy-Walker Valley winner at 7:30 p.m.
In the earlier game at Bradley, the Bears consistently beat frustrated Ooltewah perimeter defenders off the dribble and drove lanes for a mountain of layups to win 68-62.
Ooltewah players didn’t forget that bad feeling.
“That was a horrible loss,” Johnson said. “We got after it on every possession tonight and weren’t going to let it happen again. We had something to prove.”
The Owls had a plan – mix in a 3-2 zone with their vaunted pressure man-to-man – and see if the Bears could handle it.
“Our 3-2 zone was very effective tonight,” said Snider, who was honored in pregame Senior Night ceremonies for having surpassed the 1,000-point barrier. “Coach called for the switch a couple times and put us in the best situation to be successful.”
Snider has now scored 1,500-plus points as a four-year starter for the Owls.
“I didn’t know I had that many points,” he said. “I’ve just been focused on playing the game the right way. My teammates have been looking for me and I’ve been making some shots.”
Snider has poured in 76 points, an average of 25.3, over the past three games. He got 13 of his 21 against the Bears in the second quarter.
“I’m playing better, but I don’t really care about the scoring,” Snider said. “A lot of times out there tonight I wasn’t thinking offense at all. I was trying to help my teammates.”
The Owls used a 10-0 first quarter run to build an 18-11 lead and pushed the margin to 27-17 with 4:00 left in the first half. Ooltewah had a 34-21 lead about three minutes later, but Bradley Central’s Tucker Maroon made a layup with 0.6 seconds left to narrow the deficit to 34-23.
Daniel Clark’s jumper from the right baseline to start the third quarter trimmed the Owls’ lead to 34-25. However, scored the next eight points – four each by Boyd and Johnson – behind a patented swarming man-to-man defense and zipped into a 17-point advantage.
After the Bears’ Sam Gregory hit two free throws, Montgomery switched to the 3-2 zone and Snider’s layup off a Johnson assist and Johnson’s tip-in of a Snider miss gave Ooltewah a 46-27 lead.
Taylor Bentley, who led the Bears with 15 points, canned back-to-back 3s out of the right corner and added a free throw and Ty Morgan drove the lane for a layup to whittle Ooltewah’s lead to 48-36 – Edward Montgomery’s baseline drive produced the Owls’ only points in that stretch.
The lead was still 12 going into the fourth quarter.
Montgomery went back to the zone after Snider’s shot from the wing found its mark 21 seconds into the final period.
Morgan and Gregory had buckets to pull the Bears to within 54-44.
Refusing to buckle under pressure, Ron King hit a clutch 3-pointer, Johnson – he scored 16 second-half points – hit two free throws and Boyd drove for a layup, getting a behind-the-back assist from King on the play, and the Owls pushed the lead back to 17 points at 61-44 with 5:40 left.
Bradley’s Cole Copeland drilled a 3 and Snider hit a tough on-the-drive bank shot and the Bears trailed 63-47.
Even deep into the fourth quarter, Bradley Central wasn’t getting many driving opportunities.
“That’s my fault,” Bears coach Chuck Clark said. “I did a poor job preparing my guys for the zone. We went over it two weeks ago and then the snows came (the team’s scheduled game on Jan. 4 was postponed to Monday). You never take anything for granted, but I did.”
Clark wasn’t surprised Ooltewah used the zone because he saw the last few minutes of the Owls’ win over Cleveland last week and knew the Bears would likely see it on Monday.
“I knew to go over the two or three offenses we used against a 3-2 zone, but I failed to go over it (Sunday),” Clark said. “Tonight showed that I didn’t prepare the guys for it.”
Teams that face the Owls in the postseason should be ready for a zone defense the team is becoming more comfortable with over time.
“Any time something is working you want to use it,” Montgomery said. “But man-to-man is our real defense. That gets us going. Tonight we were trying to win a ballgame and I saw that Bradley was stagnant against the zone.
“We weren’t subbing the way we normally sub, so I needed to give the guys a chance to get a quick blow and the zone allowed us to do that. We moved well in the zone. We were rebounding well. We went to for a wrinkle, but it started working real good.”
The Bearettes (20-5, 11-1) scored the game’s first nine points – four different starters got quick scores – and never looked back in crushing the Lady Owls (5-14, 3-9).
Emma Kate Brown scored 14 of her game-high 22 points in the first quarter and added two free throws with 3.9 seconds left in the first half, helping the Bearettes build an insurmountable 54-15 lead.
The Lady Owls had more turnovers (10) than points (nine) after one quarter.
Bradley Central reserves played most of the second half.
University of Florida signee Brooke Copeland finished with 15 points, 11 coming in the first half. Halle Hughes scored 14 points, nine in the second quarter. Hughes hit three of the Bearettes’ seven 3-pointers.
Indian Corley scored nine points for Ooltewah.
Bradley Central 13 10 17 18 – 58
Ooltewah 18 16 18 23 – 75
Bradley Central (58) – McGowan, Clark 9, Copeland 4, Maroon 4, Taylor Bentley 15, McCurdy 2, Gregory 6, Cox 2, Ty Morgan 11, Crisp 2.
Ooltewah (75) – Jaymcal Johnson 21, Jarek Boyd 16, King 6, Ben Snider 21, Montgomery 7, Ross, Freeman, Williams, Wooten 2, Adam, Jones, Strickland, Cothran, Anchunatty.
3-Point Goals – Bradley Central 5 (Taylor 3, Clark, Copeland); Ooltewah 6 (Johnson 3, King, Snider).
Bradley Central 27 27 10 13 – 77
Ooltewah 9 6 10 6 – 31
Bradley Central (77) – Halle Hughes 14, K. Brown 9, Emma Kate Brown 22, Stallings 3, Brooke Copeland 15, Delane, Summars 3, Reuter 8, Brumfield 1, McRee.
Ooltewah (31) – Clyne, Cain, Taylor 2, Cooper 6, A. Jones, H. Hall, G. Hall, Baker 8, Thompson, Reed, India Corley 9, R. Jones, Henderson 4, Faulkner, Lemon 2.
3-Point Goals – Bradley Central 7 (Hughes 3, K. Brown 2, E. Brown, Stallings); Ooltewah 3 (Cooper 2, Baker).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)