Rodney Henderson and Keelan Jackson could not have had a more different final stat line in Tyner's 66-57 rivalry win over Brainerd Saturday which effectively sets up a District 4-2A regular season championship game next Friday against Chattanooga Arts & Sciences.
Yet for all the oohs and ahhs which came from a packed house inside Tyner's Gymnasium, the Tyner stars produced identical lines in perhaps the most important one in the book when all was said and done.
Henderson, the smooth sophomore guard, had a game-high 25 points to lead the Rams' offense while Jackson, the savvy senior vet, didn't score a single point in the column most will look. But it was Henderson's smothering defense on Brainerd's Dennis Lewis, Jr. and Jackson's impenetrable force in the lane against Brainerd big Donivon Thomas which had the biggest impact on the game's outcome.
Lewis, Jr. and Thomas, the Panther's go-to outside/inside leaders, were held without a made bucket as Tyner won for the eighth straight time against its rivals in the regular season dating back to 2020, including a three-game sweep this year.
"I knew what my job was tonight if we were going to get this win," said Jackson, who held Thomas to just three shots and two offensive rebounds while blocking three shots.
Henderson, similarly had a game plan: "He's (Lewis, Jr.) a great player, but my job was to lock in tonight. I wanted to dominate my matchup first and foremost and do whatever it took to get us the win. There's been a lot of talk outside the game, so we knew tonight was important," said Henderson after holding Lewis, Jr. to an 0-for-6 night and blocking three of those attempts.
The importance of the game was two-fold: it set up the winner-take-all battle with CSAS for the regular season title and it restored momentum while at the same time slowing Brainerd's late season run. The Panthers (13-8, 5-2) had won every game since its last loss to Tyner back in December and saw its five-game streak, which included big wins over CSAS and Hamilton Heights, snapped.
Tyner (16-7, 6-1), meanwhile, had lost a couple of games the past week, and was looking to right the ship heading into the homestretch.
"We needed this win tonight. It was a rivalry game and we knew their kids could play. Rodney does such a great job with his game and you see it on offense, but he wanted the challenge tonight. He was locked in on defense. Keelan has been battling some injuries and sickness, and what he did tonight no one will notice looking at the boxscore, but it was a huge game," said Tyner coach E'Jay Ward, a Brainerd grad who has been part of this rivalry for a long time.
"I'm in my sixth year here now and I told the guys this maroon and gold is starting to look good on me. But in all seriousness, it's a great rivalry and we make each other better. These games are nice to win, but both of us are trying to find our way to Murfreesboro, and playing each other helps make that happen," added Ward.
Iron certainly sharpens iron and both programs have been mainstays in trips over Monteagle over the years, oftentimes in the same year.
Brainerd looked every bit the team that has dominated of late, jumping out to an 8-0 lead as the Rams had three turnovers on their first three possessions. Henderson, though, took over the final 4:29 scoring 10 points as the Rams got defensive to force four straight turnovers at one point and led 19-12 after the first period.
Nicolas Smith had a big second period for Tyner, scoring eight straight at one point, to push it out to a 29-23 lead and Bishop Smith got 10 of 12 points in the first half as the Rams outscored the Panthers 7-2 in the final 1:46 to take a 42-31 lead into the break. Smith had all 10 of his points in the half.
Nehemiah Bloodsaw's baseline dunk gave Tyner's its biggest lead at 45-31 and Henderson's three made free throws at 4:28 in the third after drawing a foul a 3-point shot, kept it at 50-36, but Brainerd held Tyner scoreless the rest of the period by going ultra aggressive on traps and running off a 9-0 run to pull within 50-45 heading into the fourth. Quintas Broadnax and Boo Carter were responsible for most of the damage as the two refused to give in.
Carter, who led Brainerd with 21 points, drove the lane to start the fourth and TJ Hood had a reverse layin to close within 50-49, but the Rams refused to break. Josh Jackson hit a giant 3after a Bloodsaw free throw to make it a five-point game and even with Broadnax and Carter making buckets to keep it one possession, Bloodsaw and Henderson down the stretch were too much.
"I thought both teams were tired at the end, but our guys had the will to win, and that was the difference after they pulled within a point," said Ward.
Jemari Baylor's short jumper pulled Brainerd to within 60-57 with 2:17 left, but it would be the last field goal the Panthers had. Henderson scored the final six points of the game, including four straight free throws to salt it away. Henderson finished 15-of-15 from the line as Tyner only attempted four second half treys.
"It's a 3-ball era we live in, and I get that and I give them a lot of freedom to shoot them, but we had them in foul trouble and got into the bonus, so we wanted to attack," said Ward, as his Rams hit 22-of-27 from the charity stripe.
Aside from Henderson's smooth 25, Bloodsaw added 14, Nicolas Smith a dozen and Bishop Smith 10. Carter's 21 led the Panthers while Broadnax added 12 off the bench, but they couldn't make up for Lewis, Jr and Thomas going without a made field goal.
Tyner was 20 for 43 from the floor, including 15 of 25 in the first half, while Brainerd was 20 of 53 and saw the Rams double their effort at made free throws 22-11. .
Tyner girls 48, Brainerd 25:. The Lady Rams got production across the board as five different players scored in each of the first three quarters as Tyner raced to a 36-12 lead and coasted to victory. Leya Mitchell led the effort with her 13 points but got solid support from Kamari McCullough (nine) Skye Toney (eight) and Shy Harrison (eight).
Brainerd (4-16, 1-6) was led by An'Tisia Jones' nine points. Tyner improved to 10-11 (3-3) with the win.
BRAINERD 4 6 2 13 -- 25
TYNER 9 15 11 13 -- 48
BRAINERD (25) -- Bullard, Keith 2, Mason, Foster, Watkins 6, Belcher 6, A.Jones 9, A.DeLaCruz 1, C.Jones 1.
TYNER (48) -- Williams 3, Taylor 3, Harrison 8, Brookins 2, McCullough 9, Leya Mitchell 13, Eady, Manghane 3, Toney 8.
3-point goals: Brainerd 1 (A.Jones); Tyner 5 (Mitchell 2, Toney 2, Harrison)
Records: Brainerd 4-16 (3-4); Tyner 10-11 (4-3)..
BRAINERD 12 19 14 12 -- 57
TYNER 19 23 8 16 -- 66
BRAINERD (57) -- Thomas, Lewis, Jr. 6, Hood 7, Quintas Broadnax 12, Boo Carter 21, Shaw 3, Baylor 5, Jones 3, .
TYNER (51) -- Bishop Smith 10, Rodney Henderson 25, Nehemiah Bloodsaw 14, Nicolas Smith 123, Harper, J.Jackson 5, K.Jackson, Dixson.
3-point goals: Brainerd 6 (Carter 3, Hood, Shaw, Baylor); Tyner 4 (B.Smith 2, N.Smith, Jackson).
Records: Brainerd 13-8 (5-2); Tyner 16-7 (6-1).
(Contact James Beach at firstname.lastname@example.org)