There’s an old saying in golf: “It’s not how you drive, but how you arrive.” A long drive is fine. A flubbed approach to the green can ruin everything.
It’s been said in basketball that, “It’s not always how you start, but how you finish.”
Bradley Central and Ooltewah both started slowly Friday night in their District 5-3A tournament game at Soddy-Daisy High School.
However, the Bears, the No. 5 seed, blistered the No. 4 Owls down the stretch to build a 20-point lead and eventually won, 53-45, to reach Saturday’s semifinal against No. 1 seed East Hamilton.
In the earlier girls’ game, McMinn County rolled past the Ooltewah Lady Owls, 63-35, behind the game-high 19 points by junior Whitney Green. The Lady Cherokees will play No. 1 seed Bradley Central, which has a 66-game winning streak against district opponents.
Bradley (17-9), bolstered by Tyler Ferguson’s first double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds), used a 23-1 that covered half the third quarter and most of the fourth to turn a 25-23 deficit into a 46-26 advantage with 3:10 left in the game.
Coach Chuck Clark’s Bears survived the Owls’ 12-2 run that sliced their deficit to nine points with 61 seconds left and extended their lead in the series to 109-26 with the quarterfinal victory.
“This is the first time I’ve had a double-double,” Ferguson said, “but the difference in the game was us clicking and playing team basketball to get the win. We came out ready to play defense in the second half because they had kept it close and we had to do something.”
Amazingly, the Bears have ended Ooltewah’s season 15 times, including three times in the district championship game and twice in region finals. The Owls have never managed to do the same to Bradley.
“I didn’t know it was that bad,” Owls coach Jay Williams said of Bradley’s 23-1 run. “I knew it was bad though. We really struggled in the third quarter. This bunch is limited offensively and we just couldn’t score in the third, although we got good looks.
“When you’re down 20 points and you’re not great offensively, it’s tough to climb out of that hole.”
After Greyson Wood knocked down a straight-on 3 to give the Owls a 25-23 in the third period, Ooltewah went 10-plus minutes without a field goal – Logan Henry hit a bucket with 2:20 left in the quarter to end the drought.
Although Ooltewah was able to cut Bradley’s lead to 47-38 on Wood’s 3, it was never able to get closer than eight points.
“The first half was dictated by foul trouble,” Clark said. “They had a guy with two fouls and we had two guys with two fouls.”
Standout Tray Curry was one player with two fouls and sat out a good portion of the second period.
What was key to the Bears playing much better after halftime?
“We had our five starters back coming out of halftime and Tray was really involved offensively,” Clark said. “That was the biggest advantage, along with getting aggressive on defense.”
Curry finished with six points and freshman Quante Berry gave Ferguson help with 11 points.
Clark, now 12-2 against Ooltewah, also praised Ferguson’s big game as a big factor in the outcome.
“That was huge,” the coach said. “He plays with so much energy and aggressiveness, we sometimes have to dial him back.”
Henry and Wood each scored 15 points for the Owls (15-14).
McMinn County 63, Ooltewah 35: Green had the hottest hand for the Lady Cherokees (21-9) hitting 7-of-15 shots that included a 5-for-13 effort from 3-point distance. Other McMinn players followed Green’s lead, adding 10 more 3s in 23 attempts. Paige Manney made two long-distance shots and finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.
“It feels good knowing I helped the team win and get to the region,” said Green, who added four steals, two steals and two blocked shots.
Green’s 3 gave McMinn a 13-10 lead early in the second quarter. Ooltewah’s Brooklyn Wardlaw scored on a put-back, but the Lady Cherokees’ Manney made two straight 3s and Addie Smith scored from the left wing and McMinn had a 21-12 lead.
McMinn snuffed out any hope for the Lady Owls in the third period.
Already leading 30-20 coming out of halftime, Green made two 3s and scored 11 points and Hannah Burns scored all seven of her points in a 21-4 run that pushed McMinn’s point spread to 51-24. Kaitlynn Hennessee’s 3 provided the other points in the spurt.
Hennessee, who picked up two early fouls, played only 14 minutes and scored eight points.
“I’m a firm believer that if I have a player with two fouls early in the game, and we maintain a lead, I will keep that player on the bench the rest of the half,” McMinn coach Tim McPhail said.
Asked if he considered putting Hennessee back on the floor before halftime, he said, “I believe I’ve only done that once this season.”
Next up for McMinn County is league nemesis Bradley Central.
“We have to have confidence. They’ve got our number. Sometimes they’ve had more talent and sometimes it’s just being Bradley,” McPhail said. “Bradley has great talent this year, but they don’t have Rhyne Howard (now having a sensational freshman year at Kentucky). Yet, they’re still a solid team and we’re going to need leadership from our seniors. They’re notorious for going on 10-0 or 12-0 runs on you.”
Madalyn Mills, who got off to a rough start shooting the ball, ended up pacing the Lady Owls (11-16) with 17 points but made just 7-of-20 shots. She managed a double-double with 14 rebounds that included eight on the offensive end.
Ooltewah 5 15 4 11 – 35
McMinn County 10 20 21 12 – 63
Ooltewah (50) – Cline 4, Poland 1, Wardlaw 8, Madalyn Mills 17, Patterson, Thurman 2, Tharp, Sutton 2, Daniels, O’Donnell, Thompson 2, Hilliard, Ipurraquire.
McMinn County (63) – Burns 7, Hennessee 8, Green 19, Schiestel 3, Baxter 4, Paige Manney 12, Duckworth, Smith 5, Pickel 3, Sitzler 2, Daniels, Mack, White, Oliver.
3-Point Goals – Ooltewah 1 (Cline 1), McMinn County 11 (Green 5, Manney 2, Burns 1, Hennessee 1, Smith 1, Pickel 1).
Bradley Central 6 11 15 21 – 53
Ooltewah 9 9 7 20 – 45
Bradley Central (53) – Quante Berry 11, Boyd 4, Clark, Curry 6, Tyler Ferguson 16, Wesley, Mason Rothwell 12, Greene 4, McClary.
Ooltewah (45) – Greyson Wood 15, Smith 3, Howard 2, Houston 2, Logan Henry 15, Haynes, Sims, McCluckin 5, Walker 3, Moore.
3-Point Goals – Bradley Central 4 (Rothwell 2, Boyd 1, Ferguson 1), Ooltewah 5 (Wood 2, Henry 2, McClurkin 1).
McMinn County girls vs Bradley Central, 3 p.m.
Bradley Central boys vs. East Hamilton, 4:30 p.m.
East Hamilton girls vs. Cleveland, 6 p.m.
McMinn County boys vs. Cleveland, 7:30 p.m.
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)