ATHENS, Tenn. – Bradley Central’s Rhyne Howard made no bones about it. She was extremely disappointed not making the McDonald’s All-America team announced earlier this week.
And McMinn County’s Lady Cherokees paid a heavy price for Howard’s frustration.
With the second-ranked Bearettes coming out of halftime with a shaky 30-24 lead and not playing their best basketball, Howard took complete control of the rivalry contest at McMinn County High School.
The 6-foot-1 Howard, who has signed with Kentucky, scored 21 third-quarter points and finished with a career-high 41as unbeaten and second-ranked Bradley Central (20-0 overall, 7-0 league) whipped the Lady Cherokees, 69-43, in District 5-3A action Friday night.
“I was trying to make a statement after not making the McDonald’s All-America team,” Howard said. “I was disappointed about that and it fired me up. I knew I had to turn it up tonight and the rest of the season.”
Howard had 11 points at the half on 3-of-7 shooting, and the Bearettes were 10 for 25 from the floor. Howard went 14 for 18 from the field, including 6 for 8 behind the 3-point arc in the game. She also had 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals in 29 minutes.
The soft-spoken senior triggered an offensive burst that overwhelmed the Lady Cherokees, scoring Bradley’s first 15 points and the lead quickly exploded to 45-31 in the third quarter. After McMinn cut the lead to nine points, Howard came back with a left-wing jumper and a 3-pointer from the opposite side to push the margin to 54-36.
“I wouldn’t say it surprised me, but it was a WOW moment for Rhyne,” Bradley coach Jason Reuter said of Howard’s third quarter blitz. “Forty-one points isn’t going to break any kind of record at Bradley High, but it’s a testament to Rhyne and the kind of team she’s playing on.
“Rhyne would just as soon get an assist as score. I call her Magic Johnson because she can pass, she can dribble, she can rebound and if we need her to dig down and score 30 points, she can.
“As good as Rhyne is playing – and we’re twenty-and-oh -- there’s nobody on our team that has a college scholarship offer. She’s my only senior. I’m not saying we don’t have good players, but she’s not playing with any all-staters right now. That’s a testament to her. I told her during her sophomore year, ‘If you lead, they’ll follow.’ She’s grown up a lot and has more maturity, but she’s still just 17 years old.”
Bradley’s lead was 59-38 after Hannah Lombard’s 3 from the left corner and Howard scored nine of the Bearettes’ final nine points for the final margin of victory.
“Watching what Rhyne did (in the third quarter) is empowering and it pumps up the rest of the team,” said Hannah Lombard, who had five points and six rebounds. “She’s the leader of the team and we rely on her a lot, but as a team we pull together.”
Howard’s 41 points were the most scored by a Bearette since Brittany Jackson put up 44 against Nashville Hillsboro on Nov. 24, 2000.
McMinn County coach Tim McPhail, just smiled, shook his head and gave Howard her due in his post-game remarks.
“I don’t have the athletes to guard her consistently,” he said. “We tried to play our defense and hoped she wouldn’t do what she did. No doubt, that third quarter was frustrating for our girls. She had a night that you don’t see too often.”
Reuter was fuming much of the first half as his team’s inside defense gave up uncontested layups, much to his chagrin. Yet, he didn’t take Howard aside and tell her to take control of the game after halftime.
“I don’t go in and say, ‘Rhyne, take the ball and lead us to victory.’ That never comes out of my mouth,” Reuter said. “That first half was one of the worst defensive performances, as far as giving up penetration in the lane, we’ve had in years. Yet, they had 24 points and we’re up six at halftime. If they score twenty-four in the second half, that’s 48 and we’ll win 85 out of a hundred times if we hold you to 48 points.”
The Lady Cherokees (11-5, 4-3) took only 12 first-half shots and made nine. They attempted just one 3-pointer and Emily Liner’s shot was off the mark.
“Nobody this year shot layups on us like McMinn did because we didn’t guard the lane,” Reuter said. “We had a come to Jesus meeting at halftime. We picked up the tempo – it was more to McMinn’s liking than our in the first half – and kept them out of the lane in the second half.
“It’s a good sign when you ask your kids to make an adjustment and they come out and execute it. I think fatigue set in a little bit for McMinn after halftime and Rhyne was like a fighter getting a second wind in the 10th round. She’s bigger, faster and a better-conditioned athlete. That’s why she’s one of the better players in the country.”
Anna Walker scored nine points for the Bearettes, who have won 52 of their last 53 games.
The Bearettes won the rebounding battle, took 16 more shots than the Lady Cherokees and wound up with a 32-11 scoring advantage in the lane. In a rarity, McMinn’s bench outscored Bradley, 9-6.
Kaitlynn Hennessee led the Lady Cherokees with 10 points and Kaylen Hicks added nine.
It was Bradley’s 29th straight win against McMinn in the long-running series and pushed the all-time mark to 205-36. The Lady Cherokees haven’t beaten the Bearettes since posting a 54-49 victory on Feb. 9, 2007, in Athens.
The Bearettes’ average victory margin in the current winning streak is 30.6 points.
McMinn County boys 57, Bradley Central 46: The Cherokees (6-11, 4-3) gained sole possession of third place in the district standings with the win and Walker Valley’s 65-52 loss to Cleveland.
The Mustangs (6-11, 3-4) fell to fourth and the Bears (7-11, 2-5) stand fifth.
Bradley trimmed its deficit to 32-30 by scoring the final six points – Tyler Ferguson scored his only four points in the spree – to close the third quarter.
The Cherokees led 45-41 after the Bears’ Lameric Tucker’s three-point play, but Taurean Jones made two free throws, Matt Eaton sank a turnaround jumper in the lane and Landon Wilson’s layup extended the Cherokee’s margin to 52-41 with 2:53 remaining.
Jake Elkins paced McMinn with nine points. Haden Buckner added eight points.
Tucker led the Bears with 13 points, Jared Elrod had 10 and Mason Rothwell finished with nine, all coming on 3-point shots in the first quarter.
Bradley Central 12 18 26 13 – 69
McMinn County 9 15 12 7 – 43
Bradley Cenral (69) – Hughes 3, Mayo 5, Rhyne Howard 41, Walker 9, Lombard 5, Williams, Roberts, Reuter, Blair 5, Barnes 1, Hullender.
McMinn County (43) – Liner 6, Kaitlynn Hennessee 10, Green 5, Hicks 9, Gleaton 4, Burns 2, Manney 6, Schiestel, Baxter 1
3-Point Goals – Bradley Central 10 (Howard 6, Hughes 1, Mayo 1, Walker 1, Lombard 1), McMinn County 3 (Liner 2, Hicks 1).
Bradley Central 19 5 10 12 – 46
McMinn County 14 18 8 16 – 57
Bradley Cenral (46) – Boys 2, Clark 8, Lameric Tucker 13, Ferguson 4, Wesley, Cobb, Jared Elrod 10, Rothwell 9, Greene.
McMinn County (57) – Evans 5, Bradley, Hammonds 7, Eaton 6, Wilson 7, Runyan 3, Johnson, Sharp 2, Elkins 9, Hicks, Brown 6, Jones 4, Buckner 8
3-Point Goals – Bradley Central 5 (Rothwell 3, Elrod 2), McMinn County 6 (Elkins 3, Hammonds 1, Evans 1, Runyan 1).
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)