MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Offensively, Bradley’s state tournament game Wednesday had a little bit of ugly in it at times, until the Bearettes were threatened.
Something that didn’t take a day off was the Bearettes’ smothering defense that allowed Daniel Boone just five field goals.
The undefeated and second-ranked Bearettes (33-0) used a 19-0 run in the second half to break away and smack the Lady Trailblazers, 56-27, in the TSSAA Class 3A girls’ state tournament at Middle Tennessee State University, despite senior Rhyne Howard, named the 2018 Miss Basketball the night before, failing to score during over a 19-minute second half stretch.
She finished with 12 points.
“That doesn’t bother me as long as we’re winning,” Howard said of her scoring drought. “I don’t have to score for us to win. If my teammates are open, I get the ball to them and they can knock down the shots.”
Howard’s three lowest offensive efforts of the season came in the Bearettes’ first four games in November. She scored six points against Campbell (Georgia), 12 against Baylor and 11 the first time Bradley beat Daniel Boone.
In her previous 13 games, the Kentucky signee averaged 26.7 points and 8.5 rebounds. Howard was busy contributing in other ways than just scoring.
Bradley coach Jason Reuter wasn’t at all taken back when asked if he thought his team could win if Howard didn’t score for almost 20 minutes.
“Yeah,” he said. “We’ve got a team built for that. Rhyne is mature enough to know that every night is not going to be a Mona Lisa. But, look at her stat line after scoring: twelve boards, five assists and three steals with just one turnover. And the thing I’m most proud of is she only had two fouls. She’s matured to the point she doesn’t pick up frustration fouls considering the way she plays defense, especially in a state tournament game.
“That 5-for-14 shooting doesn’t concern me either. She may be 13 for 16 in the next game.”
Howard scored seven points in the first quarter, and her 13-foot jumper gave the Bears a 12-2 lead with 3:54 on the clock. The 6-foot-1 guard didn’t score again until she knocked down a 3 with barely a minute remaining in the third period early in the Bearettes’ game-deciding run that effectively sent Daniel Boone (30-5) back to East Tennessee.
“Howard’s confidence, the ability to pass the ball and be such a good team player is what makes Bradley what it is right now,” Daniel Boone coach Travis Mains said. “But their defense won this game. They held us to five field goals, two in the first half, and we’re 30-and-5 and have beaten some good teams all year long. Bradley took us out of everything we wanted to do.”
What Bradley wants to do now is keep on winning and advancing. Two more wins would give the Bearettes their first state title since 1976.
The Bearettes, reaching the semifinals for the second time in Reuter’s eight-year tenure, will play the Houston on Friday at 11:30 (CT). Houston (27-5) used a 16-6 third quarter to beat Mt. Juliet, 70-54. Bradley defeated Houston, 59-43, in the East-West Classic in early January.
Hannah Lombard, a junior, led the Bearettes with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including back-to-back 3s in the fourth quarter that capped the pivotal 19-point surge to cap Bradley’s tournament-opening victory in its 29th appearance in the TSSAA state tournament. No other Class 3A tournament has more than 16 state berths.
“I was open and I shot them,” Lombard said. “My mom tells me all the time, if you’re open shoot it, and I did.”
Lombard actually scored the final eight points in the spurt. She dropped in a layup off an assist by freshman Jamaryn Blair and then ripped the nets for 3-pointers from the left wing. The Bearettes were up 48-21 at that point and they had made their point – this was not going to be another one-game tournament.
The Lady Trailblazers, who trailed 27-13 at halftime, outscored the Bearettes 8-2 starting the third period and trailed by just eight points.
Reuter kept his timeouts in his pocket, but Mains called one.
“We trapped them near the mid-court line and Travis called his third time out, I think and we were up by eight points,” Reuter said. “They had given us their best shot, but the trouble was we still had about 40 percent of the game to play. I told the girls to just go play basketball.
“I begged our girls not to come out after halftime and let them out-will us, and they gave a valiant effort in the third quarter. Probably a better coach than me would have called a timeout, but I was ready for their oil light to come on. I knew they were more tired than we were because of their lack of depth. They played five girls as hard as they could play. When the gas light is on and you’ve still got a lot of miles to go, that’s the reason we pushed the lead on out. I’ve been on the other side of that; once the legs go, everything goes.”
Blair started the big run with a free throw. Hannah Walker, who had six points, five rebounds and four blocks, scored on a put-back and Howard drained the drought-ending 3-pointer, added a bucket with 39.6 seconds left in the quarter and Blair beat the buzzer with a 3 and the spurt reached 11-0.
Lombard then personally finished the run with three straight field goals.
So effective was Bradley’s pressure defense, the Lady Trailblazers never had a lead, failed to score more than nine points in any quarter and shot a paltry 15 percent (5 for 33) from the field. Their final field goal came with 4:03 remaining the third period when Macie Culberson made a layup and ensuing free throw after being fouled by Alexis Barnes.
Baleigh Carmichael was Daniel Boone’s leading scorer with eight.
Bradley Central 16 11 13 16 – 56
Daniel Boone 4 9 8 6 – 27
Bradley Central (56) – Hughes 5, Mayo, Rhyne Howard 12, Walker 6, Hannah Lombard 13, Williams, Carman 1, Roberts 4, Reuter, Blair 8, Barnes 7, Hullender, Muhonen.
Daniel Boone (27) – Culberson 5, Sizemore 4, Jenkins 3, Carmichael 8, Pearce 7, Dye, Sanders, Keefauver, Gibson, Casey, Clark, Carroll, Kosinki.
3-Point Goals – Bradley Central 7 (Hughes 1, Howard 2, Lombard 3, Blair 1), Daniel Boone 1 (Carmichael 1).
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)