The Brainerd and Central boys basketball teams split with each other this season as both won on the road, but Brainerd won the one that counted most at Brainerd Thursday night.
Facing each other in the quarterfinal round of the District 6-AA tournament, it was elimination night as the winner advanced to the region and is guaranteed at least three more games while the season ended for the team that lost.
Central had beaten Brainerd in the Jackson-High Gymnasium by a 53-43 final just last Tuesday, but the Purple Pounders couldn’t make it two in a row as Brainerd got off to a fast start and never let up, improving to 9-6 overall with the 63-50 victory.
Central concludes its season at 8-12.
There were several areas that Brainerd coach Levar Brown was happy about, but none any more so than the defensive pressure of his big men and an improvement in free throw shooting.
The Panthers had an unofficial 27-24 edge on the boards while sinking 14 of 22 from the charity stripe.
“My kids played hard for the entire 32 minutes and I’m pleased with their effort, but I thought the presence of our big men was a key factor in our winning. Donivon Thomas and Deuante Crawford controlled the glass and protected the paint, which allowed our guards to apply pressure on the outside,” Brown said shortly after the game ended.
“It was also nice that we could hold a consistent lead for most of the game and we shot a lot better from the free-throw line than we’ve been doing. The big news is that we advance to the region will play at least three more games. Going to the region has become expected at this school,” he added.
Central coach Kantonio Davis felt like his kids might not have been as ready to play as they needed to be.
“We were never into the game mentally. We won over here last week, but things were different tonight. I hate that we have to go out like this as our team really grew this season. We got a lot of stops, but were never able to match their level of play,” Davis said before heading to the Central dressing room.
“We were impatient on offense as we never relied on what we had practiced, but I’m still proud of the season we had,” he concluded.
Brainerd’s Crawford sank a short jumper from the baseline to start the game and give the Panthers a quick 2-0 lead. Garnett Hubbard responded with a quick 3 from the wing for the Purple Pounders as Central led 3-2, but Brainerd scored the next 10 points and never regained the lead.
Xiyeer Lattimore, who scored 14 points to lead the Brainerd offense, got off to a hot start with back-to-back 3s as the Panthers shot the ball well out of the gate.
Keon Wheeler sank a 3 and Dennis Lewis Jr. hit two free throws in the final minute as Brainerd’s lead stretched to 22-10 when the first stanza ended.
Donovin Taylor-Wade sank a jumper from the wing with 2:51 left before intermission to cut Brainerd’s lead to 25-19, but Joshua Hood scored five straight points and Crawford scored on a putback as the Panthers finished the half on a 7-2 run for a 32-21 lead at the break.
The Panthers stretched their halftime lead to 16 points on three occasions in the third quarter and enjoyed its biggest lead of the game of 20 points at 56-36 after Thomas scored on a putback with 5:10 to play.
The Pounders scored the next 10 points over the next four minutes, but never got any closer than eight the rest of the way. Brainerd sank five of eight free throws in the final minute to make the margin of victory 13 points.
While Lattimore had 14 points to lead the winning Panthers, Lewis and Hood both finished with 13.
Taylor-Wade scored 14 points to lead Central while Jailon Jackson and Hubbard had 11 points apiece.
Brainerd had an unofficial 27-24 advantage in rebounds with Thomas grabbing 10 and Crawford eight. Jackson was tops for Central with eight.
Brainerd now plays at top-seeded Tyner on Saturday.
CENTRAL 10 11 13 16 -- 50
BRAINERD 22 10 18 13 -- 63
CENTRAL (50) – Taylor-Wade 14, Ken. Steward 4, Hubbard 11, Teague 2, Ky. Steward 2. Sanderfer 2, Jackson 11, Jones 1, Barn 3.
BRAINERD (63) – Lattimore 14, Lewis Jr. 13, Crawford 8, Wheeler 3, Byrdsong 5, Broadnax, Hood 13, Thomas 7.
3-POINT GOALS: Central 5 (Taylor-Wade 2, Hubbard 3); Brainerd 7 (Lattimore 2, Lewis Jr. 2, Wheeler, Hood 2).
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)