There were two things vaguely familiar Saturday night in what has become one of, if not the, premier basketball rivalries in the city and across the state.
Tyner and Brainerd get-togethers – especially in the postseason – typically bring the “ohhs” and the “ahhs” from their finely tuned craftsmanship on the court but in last night’s District 6-AA semifinals it was more “uggs” and “ouches” in what ended up being a 46-30 Tyner victory.
But while the offenses were MIA for large stretches of the evening, one of the things Tyner vs Brainerd brings out are in-your-face defenses which sometimes are even more impressive than offensive slugfests.
“That’s the kind of defensive intensity I think of when I think of Tyner versus Brainerd,” said Ram boss E’Jay Ward, who played on the Panthers’ side of the rivalry before coaching it from this end.
Oh, and the other thing familiar about last night was the fact the winner would move into Tuesday night’s District finals, a slot one of the two foes has reached the last 13 years in a row.
Either Tyner or Brainerd has played for the championship trophy every year since 2008 and 20 of the last 21 seasons.
“That’s part of our expectations and I know it is for Brainerd as well. You want to play in big postseason games to get you ready for what you really expect: getting to the state tournament,” said Ward, who will play in his fourth straight finale since taking over the Ram helm four years ago.
Tyner (16-2) will host Howard for the title on Tuesday night at 7:30. The two squads are evenly matched splitting the two regular season games. Brainerd will travel to Red Bank on Monday night in the consolation game to determine region seeding. All four teams have earned region berths.
The Panthers (9-8), who have struggled at times offensively this season, got exactly the kind of game they wanted from the tip with the Rams. Brainerd stuck big Donivon Thomas in the lane and Rams avoided it like the bad part of town, settling for long-range jumpers in the first half. With Tyner big man Anthony Sims limited with a knee injury and the Rams not exactly lighting it up from the outside, Brainerd got the ugly game it desired.
Brainerd’s problem, though, were turnovers and long stretches between made buckets and with Tyner shooting it poorly, it was a tug-of-war defensively. The Panthers had their biggest output of the game with a 13-point first quarter and they led 18-12 at the break as Tyner scored one bucket in the second period on a breakaway dunk and missed its other 10 shots. Brainerd turned it over eight times in the quarter and missed nine shots of its own in scoring just five points.
In the first half, Tyner scored just twice inside the lane and that’s counting the dunk. It was not the game plan Ward had drawn up coming in.
“I had a really nice heart-to-heart chat with them at the half,” Ward smiled.
It apparently took root in senior captain Trent Gresham. Gresham immediately drove the lane on the Rams’ first possession and scored. Before the quarter was complete he had done it three more times and dished for an easy basket on another drive and Tyner ran off a 9-0 run to end the period up 29-20.
“They came out and hit us in the mouth. We were lackadaisical and coach really got after me for not having the energy I need to have. I’m a captain on the team and I did what I felt I need to do. We were going to be aggressive on offense and continue to turn it up on defense. We played more like Tyner in the second half,” said Gresham, who scored all nine of his 10 points in the third period.
The offensive energy ignited the defense as well as Tyner held Brainerd to two made free throws in the period as the Panthers were 0-for-7 in the stanza. The Panthers got within 29-23, but Amarion Dillard sandwiched a couple of acrobatic layups in traffic around a Melique Hambrick triple. By the time Keelan Jackson nailed a trey with 1:42 remaining, Tyner had another 10-0 lead and the game was in hand at 44-26.
“They finished plays and we didn’t,” said Brainerd coach Levar Brown. “We just struggle sometimes with long droughts on offense, and when things start going that way, it’s mental. I thought we played well at times, but it’s hard to win with just 12 points in a half.”
Xiyeer Lattimore led Brainerd with 12 points and Thomas had seven to go along with his stellar defensive play. For the game, Brainerd was 9-of-37 from the floor, including a 3-of-16 second-half showing and turned it over 20 times.
Hamrick led Tyner with 11 points on the strength of three treys, while Gresham had 10 and Dillard nine. The Rams used a 34-12 second-half surge to pull away, making 13-of-23 shots in the second half.
Brainerd girls 57, Tyner 47: The third time was the charm for the Lady Panthers. After getting swept in the regular season by the Lady Rams, Brainerd used a second quarter surge to get a lead and a cold-shooting Tyner squad couldn’t get over the hump.
The Lady Panthers put 20 points in the second as Tyliyah Ward scored seven of her 14 points in the period. Brainerd led 29-23 at the break and scored the first four points in the third to make it a 10-point edge. Tyner tried to get back in it with a healthy dose of defensive pressure, forcing nine third quarter turnovers, but they didn’t convert a single one of them into points, missing 15 straight shots at one point.
Tyner did end the period on a 6-0 lead to trim it to 41-34, but Brainerd opened with a 7-0 run as Arteya Scott and Shakyla Belcher led the charge. Scott finished with 17 points and was the biggest thorn in the Lady Rams’ side as she owned the defensive boards on all those missed Tyner shots.
Tamyra Long and Ineisha Camp led Tyner with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
“The girls came over here expecting to win today. They just made up their minds they were going to win and they went out and did it,” said Brainerd coach Stanley Jackson. “The last two games we played with them they really used their quickness and guards, but tonight we used our bigger bodies to our advantage.”
Brained will travel to Signal Mountain for the title game.
BRAINERD 9 20 12 16 – 57
TYNER 13 10 11 13 – 47
BRAINERD (57) – Bell 5, Tyliyah Ward 14, Wright 8, Arteya Scott 17, Mason 6, Belcher 7.
TYNER (47) – McCullough 7, Ratliff 6, Chubb 6, Ineisha Camp 10, Allen 7, Manghane 0, Tamyra Long 11.
3-POINT GOALS: Brainerd 4 (Ward 2, Wright, Scott); Tyner 3 (Camp 2, Long).
BRAINERD 13 5 2 10 – 30
TYNER 10 2 17 17 – 46
BRAINERD (30) – Xiyeer Lattimore 12, Lewis, Jr. 1, Crawford 2, Wheeler 5, Byrdsong 2, Lay 1, Broadnax, Hood, Thomas 7.
TYNER (46) – Melique Hambrick 11, Trent Gresham 10, Dillard 9, Ross 5, Keelan Jackson 6, Bloodsaw 4, Conyers 6, Sims, Holloway.
3-POINT GOALS: Brainerd 1 (Lattimore); Tyner 5 (Hambrick 3, Jackson 2).
(Contact James Beach at email@example.com)