MUFREESBORO, Tenn. – The Class AAA state champions are still alive and well.
Blackman raced past outmanned Bradley Central, 55-35, Tuesday night in a Class AAA sectional victory that blazed a path right to the boys state tournament at nearby Middle Tennessee State University starting on March 11.
The Blaze (24-5) will be making their fourth straight state appearance and begins their bid for two in a row against Maryville, which knocked off Dobyns-Bennett, 74-58, in its sectional win.
Bradley Central (22-10) finishes its season and can only look forward to next year.
“It’s disappointing,” said sophomore Cole Copeland, who led the Bears with 13 points. “We had a great run and really wanted to get to the state tournament. If we had shot a little better, we might have done it.”
Copeland scored nine of his points in the first half, but was the only Bradley player able to crack double digits.
Isaiah Hart paced the Blaze with 16 points, Christian DeWitt added 14 and Cedriontis Wilson tossed in 13 points.
Working with a 15-point halftime lead, built in part by hold Bradley without a field goal until Bradley McCurdy hit a 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer, the Blaze had the Bears in an insurmountable 45-26 hole after three periods.
The fourth quarter was simply a formality.
“We knew they could shoot the ball a little,” Bradley coach Chuck Clark said. “But they shot it a whole lot better, even when we had a hand in their face.”
Blackman made 14-of-25 attempts (56 percent) in the first half, including 5-of-9 from 3-point distance.
“We shot pretty well against the zone and man defenses,” Blackman coach Barry Wortman said. “And we got good shots. We’ve attacked the zone really well this season.”
Blackman heads into the state tournament with a 118-16 record over the past four years.
The Blaze, notching its fourth straight sectional win against a Region 3 opponent with Bradley Central twice a victim in that stretch, got away from the Bears early.
With Bradley leading 3-2, Blackman went on a 12-0 run to take a 14-3 lead late in the first quarter and the surge continued into the second period.
Working with a 16-8 advantage, the hot-shooting Blaze outscored the Bears, runners-up in the Region 3 tournament last week at Ooltewah, 11-3, and had a 27-11 cushion with 3:50 left in the first half.
Dewitt hit a field goal, but missed the ensuing free throw and came right back for a baseline floater to put Blackman up 29-16.
Jacob Nelson and Deonte Alley each connected on 3-pointers around two McCurdy free throws and Blackman enjoyed a 35-18 lead. Bradley’s Tucker Maroon drove the lane for a layup to pull the Bears to within 35-20 at halftime.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)