MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Brainerd coach Levar Brown knew that his Panthers were in for their biggest challenge of the season -- no pun intended -- in the semifinals of the Class AA Boys State Tournament at MTSU’s Murphy Center Friday afternoon.
Facing the much taller Wooddale Cardinals, Brown and his Panthers had an extra day to get ready, but it really didn’t matter as the Cardinals set the precedent with a strong first half en route to a 76-65 victory in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score.
“We were glad to have the extra day to prepare as we were totally focused on Pearl Cohn and didn’t look past them to this game,” said Brown in his post-game comments.
“We knew it would be a dogfight with Wooddale. I think we might have been a little intimidated at the start, but we played extremely hard. We shot the long ball well on Wednesday and that’s why we shot so many today, but they were making us shoot them.
“We didn’t shoot very well today and that hurt. And our defensive press didn’t work as you can’t press if you don’t score, but we had an outstanding season and I will always be proud of that,” Brown said, his team finishing at 23-11.
Senior Chandler Lawson is 6-8 and his younger brother Johnathon is 6-7, so between the two, the Cardinals challenged virtually every shot that Brainerd took. Between them, they scored 26 points and grabbed 28 rebounds and had all nine blocks.
Wooddale finished with nine blocked shots, but six of them came in the first half when the guys from Memphis built a commanding 41-22 lead.
Another run that included a dozen unanswered points by the Cardinals early in the second half stretched a 45-30 lead to 57-30 following two free throws by Kevin Brown with 4:13 left in the third.
That was Wooddale's biggest lead of the game.
Brainerd started chipping away and got consecutive 3s from Xiyeer Lattimore, Ciante Chaney and Lattimore to make it 61-39. And while the Panthers never quit and kept battling for all they were worth, the Cardinals were on cruise control by this point, knowing that the outcome was firmly in hand.
Wooddale coach Keelon Lawson played for Memphis Hamilton back in 1988 when his team lost to Brainerd in the state finals at Vanderbilt. That fact alone made Friday’s victory even more significant.
“We lost to Jay Price and Malcolm Mackey that year, so this one is really sweet,” Lawson said, his team now 32-4 with its sixth straight win.
“I have no complaints about the way we played as we already made history and we’re one of two teams still standing. No matter what happens tomorrow, we’ll go home with a trophy. We know that Saturday’s game will be tough, but our goal today was to stop number 10 as we knew he was an outstanding shooter.
“But we got off to a great start and there wasn’t as much pressure in the second half after building that 19-point lead,” the Wooddale coach concluded.
Brainerd’s number 10 was junior Kevin Halfacre, who led the Panthers with 20 points, including a dozen in the final two quarters.
Alvin Miles scored the first five points for Wooddale, but a 3 from Halfacre at the 4:21 mark of the opening quarter allowed Brainerd to lead for the only time in the game at 6-5.
The Cardinals finished the quarter on a 10-0 run for a 15-6 lead at the first stop while another run including nine straight points at the end of the second doubled the score at 38-19.
The difference was 41-22 at intermission.
Both teams scored 26 points in the third quarter before Brainerd outscored the Cardinals by 17-9 in the fourth, but the outcome of the game had long been determined by that point.
Chandler Lawson, Jonathan Duncan and Miles all had 14 points to lead Wooddale while Johnathan Lawson finished with a dozen and Kevin Brown with 10.
While Halfacre had 20 to lead Brainerd, Terry Jackson came off the bench to score 10 points, all in the second half.
Wooddale had a commanding 48-35 advantage on the boards as Jonathan Lawson had 15 and older brother Chandler 13. Trey Owten was the leader for Brainerd with eight.\
Wooddale was 24 of 53 from the field for 45.3 percent, including eight of 20 from long range for 40 percent.
Brainerd was just 27 of 73 from the field for 37 percent and eight of 33 from long distance for 24.2 percent. Those numbers were just slightly better than the first half when the Panthers were nine of 33 from the field and just three of 16 from long range.
Wooddale now faces Knoxville Fulton in Saturday’s championship game after the Falcons defeated Nashville East by a 66-55 final in Friday’s first game.
BRAINERD 6 16 26 17 -- 65
WOODDALE 15 26 26 9 -- 76
BRAINERD (65) – Owten 4, Freeman 9, Halfacre 20, Williams, McKibbens, Hubbard 4, Lattimore 6, Chaney 6, Ward, Evans 6, Jackson 10, Sadler.
WOODDALE (76) – Brown 10, Miles 14, Duncan 14, J. Lawson 12, C. Lawson 14, Thomas, Webster 3, Winfield, Carr, Mays, Mayes, Rounds 7, Suttle 2.
3-POINT GOALS: Brainerd 8 of 33 for 24.2 percent (Owten 0-1, Freeman 0-2, Halfacre 4-6, Williams 0-1, McKibbens 0-3, Hubbard 0-1, Lattimore 2-5, Chaney 2-7, Ward 0-3, Evans 0-3, Sadler 0-1); Wooddale 8 for 20 for 40 percent (Brown 2-3, Miles 2-4, Duncan 4-7, J. Lawson, 0-2, C. Lawson 0-1, Mays 0-1, Rounds 0-1.)
(email John Hunt at email@example.com)