CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Bradley Central went from an ugly duckling to a pretty nice prom date in a matter of seven hours on the same day.
After notching an ugly 55-37 win over Daniel Boone in 10 a.m. opener in the 19th Holiday Inn Express Thanksgiving semifinals, the Bearettes played perhaps their best game of a rocky start to the season in thrashing Sullivan Central, 55-37, Saturday night to win their fourth straight championship and seventh overall in the long-running two-day event at Jim Smiddy Arena.
“Well, it wasn’t a Mona Lisa,” Bearettes coach Jason Reuter said of the morning victory over the Lady Trailblazers.
In fact, it was downright ugly.
However, Reuter’s tone changed around 9 p.m. when his team finished polishing off the Lady Cougars. The Bearettes held a shaky 19-18 halftime lead and outscored Sullivan Central, 36-19, in the second half to pull away. ”
Reuter must have lit up the locker room at the break.
“I told them we’re pulverizing this team on the offensive boards (13-1), but you couldn’t make a layup, but you’re up by one, and you can’t shoot any worse,” he said. “You’re going to win this game and I have no doubt. Just relax.”
Was that really what Reuter wanted to say or do?
“You’ve got to be careful with teenage kids,” he added. “I wanted to kick a chair, but I didn’t because I knew all we had to do was start making some shots.”
The Bearettes (5-0), who now have won 73 straight regular season games, hit 15 of 33 shots in the second half after making just 8 of 32 attempts in the first half that included a 2 for 12 effort in the second quarter when the Lady Cougars almost wiped out an eight-point deficit
A primary factor in the nightcap win was sophomore point guard Jamaryn Blair breaking out of a season-opening funk with a game-high 18 points, five rebounds, all on the offensive boards, four steals and three assists.
Another reason the Bearettes won was drastically whittling down their ball-handling mistakes – a combined for in the first two games of the tournament. They got out of the title game with only six miscues, while the defense forced Sullivan Central (4-1) into 21 turnovers.
“I’ll live with that,” Reuter said. “Our goal is 12 of less; I’m pretty lenient and they run for anything over 12.”
After shooting 25 percent in the first and second quarters, Bradley Central wound up hitting 23 of 65 shots for 35 percent. However, it was another paltry effort from 3-point distance as the Bearettes went 3 for 26 (11.5 percent). Hey, that was a better percentage by double digits than in the first 16 minutes when the Bearettes were 0 for 12.
Throw in Blair’s early season breakout performance and the Bearettes had the winning remedy.
“I came out here tonight and did what I know I can do,” said the 5-foot-6 Blair, who scored 13 points in the first two games of the tournament with eight turnovers. “I was tired of being down on myself and not playing to my ability.”
Blair had that trademark pep in her step back and mentally she left the arena in a better state of mind.
“Almost,” she said. “It’s not there yet, but it’s getting there.”
Said Anna Walker, Blair’s junior teammate: “What she did tonight made me feel a lot better for her because she’s had her head down for a few games. Having a breakout game like that was good for her because she really carries us a lot.”
Reuter looked at the statistics sheet after the game and saw a smaller number alongside Blair’s name.
“That’s the biggest thing I’m proud of, one turnover,” he said. “It’s the best game she’s had all year and we’ve been waiting on this. As a sophomore, the pressure of coming in and starting and starting at point guard for Ryne (Howard) can be a bit overwhelming at times.
“I know Anna Walker was the tournament MVP, but Jamaryn was the MVP of this game. We have to have more of that from her. I’ve tried to take pressure off her and told her just go out there and play and forget all the static in the background. I’ll take the blame if things go bad.”
Nursing the one-point lead coming out of the locker room at halftime, the Bearettes outscored the Lady Cougars, 13-2, and extended the margin to 32-20 and Blair had six points in the offensive spree. Bradley enjoyed a 19-9 advantage in the third quarter and had a 38-27 cushion.
Blair and Hannah Lombard drained back-to-back 3s to start the final period. After Sullivan countered with two free throws by 6-4 junior Abbey Crawford – she had a team-high 17 points.
Up 47-32 midway through the quarter, Bradley’s Anna Roberts hit a layup and Walker added two more and the lead ballooned to 53-34.
It was over.
Walker, Blair and Hughes earned spots on the all-tournament team.
Bradley Central 55, Daniel Boone 42: With Reuter’s not a Mona Lisa assessment out there, the simple fact was his Bearettes turned in their second straight less-than-stellar performance in the semifinal showdown.
The forthright critiques of Bradley’s efforts were not lost on the players, either.
“I think a lot of us were panicking when Daniel Boone pressured us with a 1-2-2 trap defense,” said Lombard, who scored all six of her points at the free-throw line in the final 2 minutes and 35 seconds. “I’m nervous at (free throw) line, but I knew I had to do it for the team. I try to stay as calm as possible.”
Lombard was 0 for 2 from the field, but was 6 for 8 at the stripe to help hold the aggressive Trailblazers at bay in the fourth quarter.
Walker figured prominently down the stretch, by dropping six of her game-high 17 points – she also had 11 rebounds – late in the fourth quarter. Walker started the Bearettes’ final 12-point surge with a put-back goal with 3:02 on the clock and ended it with a layup with 0:02 seconds remaining.
“We work every day against a 1-2-2 pressure defense, but today we made a lot of uncharacteristic turnovers,” Walker said. “We showed a lot of intensity and how much we wanted to win in the fourth quarter. Defense and intensity are the reasons we won the game.”
The Bearettes committed 23 turnovers, the same number as Daniel Boone, and Walker had five. Blair had four and Hughes and Jamia Williams three apiece.
“It’s been a couple years since that’s happened,” said Reuter, referring to the turnovers. “Daniel Boone is not a bad team – they’re the best team we’ve played – and they play physical, but that’s too many turnovers. I’ll take the blame for that. I’m the maestro and the players are the orchestra.
“The kids battled and we’re 4-0 and we’ve won all four games on defense. (Daniel Boone) shot 27.7 percent and our defense had something to do with that. We knew what to expect today, but we’re not playing very good basketball right now.”
Hughes got the Bearettes off to a quick start, scoring all 10 of her points and Bradley had a 14-12 lead after one quarter.
That was an indication the game would be a huge challenge.
Bradley was up 29-23 at halftime. The Bearettes pushed the margin to 33-23 on a field goal and two free throws in the third period. The two Walker free throws after Trailblazer coach Beau Hauldren was hit with a technical foul with 3:58 left in the period.
While a referee was trying to signal the scorer’s table on a foul, Hauldren approached him and voiced his displeasure. The official said, “Let me do my job.”
Hauldren kept talking.
“Let me do my job,” the official repeated.
When all the pertinent foul information was given to the scorer, the official said, “Ok, sir.”
Whatever Hauldren said in the next five seconds resulted in the technical foul.
Walker hit two free throws from the technical, but missed the next two. Daniel Boone scored twice and Williams hit a field goal, Roberts made a free throw, Williams added a layup and Bradley’s lead was 38-26.
The Trailblazers cut Bradley’s lead to 43-36 early in the fourth period on two free throws by Bayleigh Carmichael, a 5-10 senior guard who had 15 points on 4 of 17 shooting – she was 1 of 12 from 3-point distance.
Following a three-plus minute dry spell for both teams, Walker started the Bearettes’ final push to the victory.
“Daniel Boone is battle-tested,” Reuter said, “and so are we and we’ve just got to keep working.”
Jaycie Jenkins paced the Trailblazers with 16 points, but like Carmichael, had a tough shooting game and hit only 5 of 12 field goal attempts.
Sullivan Central 5 213 9 20 – 37
Bradley Central 13 6 19 17 – 55
Sullivan Central (37) – Sams 5, Robinette 1, Avery Leming 11, Hurd, Abbey Crawford 17, McClellan 3, Horne, Niebruegge, West, Moody, Lambert, Harrison.
Bradley Central (55) – Hughes 4, Roberts 3, Anna Walker 10, Jamaryn Blair 18, Lombard 5, Hullender, Williams 2, Reuter, Mayo 7, Barnes 6, Carman, Crittenden, Estrada, Falcon.
3-Point Goals – Sullivan Central 5 (Leming 3, Sams 1, McClellan 1), Bradley Central 3 (Blair 1, Lombard 1, Mayo 1).
Daniel Boone 12 11 6 13 – 42
Bradley Central 14 15 9 17 – 55
Daniel Boone (42) – Runnels 2, Gibson 2, Jaycie Jenkins 16, Bayleigh Carmichel 15, Clark 2, Dietz, Stevens 5.
Bradley Central (55) – Kaleigh Hughes 10, Roberts 5, Blair 2, Anna Walker 17, Lombard 6, Barnes 2, Mayo 3, Jamia Williams 10, Reuter.
3-Point Goals – Daniel Boone 3 (Jenkins 2, Carmichel 1), Bradley Central 4 (Hughes 2, Walker 1, Mayo 1).
Sullivan Central 11 10 9 17 – 47
McMinn Central 9 10 11 6 – 36
Sullivan Central (47) – Sams 7, Robinette 2, Leming 7, Hurd 5, Abbey Crawford 20, McClellan 6, Horne.
McMinn Central (36) – Carlie Runyan 10, K. Baker 2, Melia Baker 13, Smith, Beaty 4, Crabtree 4, Buckner, Rule 3.
3-Point Goals – Sullivan Central 1 (Leming 1), McMinn Central 3 (Runyan, M. Baker, Rule).
Eagle’s Landing 14 12 9 17 – 52
Grace Christian 19 6 12 10 – 47
Eagle’s Landing (52) – Weronicka Hipp 15, Queen 5, Beard, Barnett 6, India Bellamy 24, Bria Bellamy 2.
Grace Christian (47) – McReynolds 6, Peters, Duggins 7, Taylor Carter 21, Campbell 4, Barfield, Hammond 5, Stewart 4.
3-Point Goals – Eagle’s Landing 2 (Hipp 1, I. Bellamy 2), Grace Christian 7 (Carter 5, Duggins 1, Hammond 1).
Collierville 18 10 3 10 – 41
Creekview 20 14 4 10 – 48
Collierville (41) – Mallory Taylor 13, Anandi Farrell-Rosseau 11, Rodgers 2, D. Amaefula 8, Robinson 4, Jones, Pham 3, Brown, M. Amaefula.
Creekview (48) – Hannah Fitzgereald 16, Craft 4, Wilkie 4, Waters 7, Josie Johnson 14, Mason 3, Pridemore, Pearce.
3-Point Goals – Collierville 3 (Taylor 1, Farrell-Rousseau 1, Pham 1), Creekview 2 (Fitzgerald 1, Waters 1).
McMinn Central 12 15 9 14 – 50
Daniel Boone 12 16 17 10 – 55
McMinn Central (50) – Carlie Runyan 18, K. Baker, Melia Baker 14, Smith, Beaty 9, Crabtree, Buckner 2, Rule 7.
Daniel Boone (55) – Runnels 6, Gibson 5, Jenkins 9, Bayleigh Carmichel 17, Clark 6, Carroll, Casey 3, Sanders, Dietz 2, Stevens 7.
3-Point Goals – McMinn Central 1 (Rule 1), Daniel Boone 4 (Jenkins 2, Carmichel 1).
Bradley Central – Anna Walker (MVP), Kaleigh Hughes, Jamaryn Blair
Sullivan Central – Peyton Sams, Abbey Crawford
Daniel Boone – Jaycie Jenkins, Bayleigh Carmichel
McMinn Central – Carlie Runyan, Melia Baker
Creekview – Josie Johnson
Collierville – Destiny Amaefula
Grace Christian – Taylor Carter
Eagle’s Landing – India Bellamy
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)