CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Bradley Central senior Rhyne Howard is hot.
The University of Kentucky signee, coming off a career-high 41-point effort against McMinn County on Friday, lit up East Hamilton for 38 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday night as the unbeaten, No.2-ranked Bearettes rolled to a 63-36 victory to clinch the District 5-3A regular-season title at Jim Smiddy Arena.
It was another dominant effort by Howard, who outscored the entire East Hamilton squad.
Howard made more field goals (14) than the Lady Canes 11).
Howard knocked down more 3-point shots (seven) than fourth-ranked East Hamilton (six).
She was, frankly, too much for the Lady Canes to handle.
“The basket probably looks like a washtub to her right now,” Bradley coach Jason Reuter said, referring to Howard. “In my eight years here, I don’t think I’ve ever had a Bearette to pull off 41- and 38-point games back-to-back. We would like more balance, but when the star is on, she’s on. The (Chicago) Bulls probably didn’t mind when Michael Jordan went off and scored 60.”
Statistics don’t lie.
Howard went 14 for 17 from the field. The other Bearettes were 9 for 27.
The 6-foot-1 senior was 7 for 10 behind the 3-point arc. Her teammates went 4 for 14. The seven 3s are a season high.
“This is the best I’ve shot all season,” said Howard, who is averaging 20.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 4.6 steals and 1.2 steals. “Tonight I was coming off good screens by my teammates and got a lot of open shots.”
Oh, by the way, Howard is making 50 percent of her shots and that includes 40 percent from 3-point distance.
“I felt like we really tried to guard (Howard) all night,” said Madison Hayes, East Hamilton’s standout sophomore. “But she’s just a great player that we got frustrated. We have to have more fight when we play Bradley.”
The Bearettes are now 21-0 overall and 8-0 in district action. They have won 53 of their last 54 games, the only loss a 55-49 setback against Stewarts Creek in the 2017 Class 3A sectional.
East Hamilton, led in scoring by Hayes’ 16 points, fell to 19-3 overall and 5-3 in league play.
The Bearettes hit six 3s in the first half – Howard made four – and needed them to offset three straight 3-pointers by the Lady Canes’ Hayes, Hailey Abernathy and DeZah Lacy.
Bradley, now 12-0 against East Hamilton, was up 29-18 at the break.
In the third period, East Hamilton pulled to within 34-23 only to see Bradley stretch the margin to 43-27 on Cambree Mayo’s 3 from the left corner with 0.5 seconds left.
Anna Walker started the Bradley scoring in the fourth quarter and Howard scored 15 of the next 16 points to seal the deal.
“When I release the ball, if I feel good, I believe it’s going in,” said Howard, who pushed her career scoring total to 2,160 points and moved her into 10th place on the school’s all-time list ahead of Traci Dixon’s 2,157. “Tonight, I was just feeling it and I felt that way the whole night.”
Howard now sets her sights on No. 9 Jackie Pickel with 2,221 points.
Closing out the game was a real positive to Reuter, who is now 221-28 (89 percent) as Bradley’s coach.
“The most impressive thing to me, other than Rhyne’s performance,” he said, “was how we kept stretching the lead while running time off the clock.”
East Hamilton’s lone points over the final 5:26 were Hayes’ 3 at the 2:12 mark and Kaiyanna Suttles’ free throw with 14.6 seconds left.
Bradley, which has won 47 straight games, including district and region tournaments, against district opponents, scored 15 points over that same time span.
East Hamilton 9 9 9 9 – 36
Bradley Central 19 10 14 20 – 63
East Hamilton (36) – Moon 3, Lacy DeZah 9, Madison Hayes 16, Zeh, Laboo 4, Suttles 1, Petitt, Abernathy 3.
Bradley Central (63) – Hughes 1, Mayo 6, Rhyne Howard 38, Walker 6, Lombard 3, Williams, Roberts, Reuter, Blair 4, Barnes 2, Hullender.
3-Point Goals – East Hamilton 6 (Lacy 3, Moon 1, M. Hayes 1, Abernathy 1), Bradley Central 11 (Howard 7, Mayo 2, Lombard 1, Blair 1).
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)