MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – A magical second season came to a heartbreaking end for the Chattanooga Prep Sentinels here at MTSU’s Murphy Center Friday afternoon.
The Sentinels won district, region and sectional championships to earn their first trip to the Bluecross Basketball Championships and they got off to a great start on Wednesday with their first state tournament win ever over Fayetteville.
However, as we all know, there are no bad basketball teams in the state tournament. The hill got a little steeper in the second round and the Sentinels came up a bit short as the Hampton Bulldogs advanced to Saturday’s championship game with the 53-43 victory.
Hampton is now 28-8 while Chattanooga Prep finishes another outstanding season at 29-9.
Chattanooga Prep coach Christoffer Collins has had a great time leading these young men as they’ve beaten a bunch of bigger and more experienced teams along the way, but he was somewhat subdued following the final game of the season.
“We have absolutely nothing to hang our heads about and I promise you that we will bounce back,” he said in the post-game interview room.
“I think nerves were a problem for us today as we were so anxious to play well, but hats off to Hampton as they did a great job defensively. They completely took us out of our offense.
“Our goal on defense was to contain their penetration, but we didn’t do a very good job with that.
“The good news is that everyone will be back. We know that we have to play hard, but we also have to play smart. Now we know what it feels like to play in this tournament. It was a great experience for sure, but we’ll be back,” Collins concluded on an optimistic note.
Hampton coach Ned Smith knew that Friday’s opponent was a good team, but he also knew how important it was for his group to get off to a good start.
“I thought our kids played great today as our defense was pretty solid. We wanted to limit their chances on offense with just one shot and we did that pretty well too,” Smith began.
“We wanted to get out of the gate in a hurry and take control of the game. It’s a great feeling to win this semifinal game today and we just want to give our best shot in the championship game tomorrow,” he added.
The Bulldogs, making their second straight appearance here after losing to East Robertson in last year’s semifinal, never trailed in this game as they got a putback from Hayden Campbell and a three-point play from Eugene Carrico for a 5-0 lead in the first two minutes.
The lead was 13-5 following two free throws by Campbell with 3:33 left in the opening stanza before Prep answered with back-to-back buckets from Ta’Suade Williams and Derrick Roberson to trail 13-9 when the first stanza ended.
Neither team shot particularly well in the second quarter, but the Bulldogs were still able to enjoy an 8-6 advantage as their lead swelled to 21-15 at intermission.
Cadon Buckles came to life for Hampton in the second half and scored 10 of his game-high 29 points during the third quarter alone.
Williams scored on a drive down the lane with 5:19 left in the third to get Prep within seven at 25-18, but the Bulldogs then sealed the deal and finished the quarter on a 10-2 run for a commanding 35-20 lead with one quarter remaining.
Buckles had back-to-back buckets early in the fourth as the Bulldogs had their biggest lead of 16 points at 39-23 with 6:30 to play.
The Sentinels got to within nine points once after that, but the deficit was simply too much for the young Chattanooga players to overcome.
Buckles led Hampton with 29 points, including 19 in the second half. Carrico finished with a dozen while Campbell added seven points and a game-high 10 rebounds and four blocks.
Roberson was the leader for the Sentinels with a dozen points. Eli Gaines was next with 11 while Williams finished with nine.
Roberson also had seven rebounds as Hampton won the battle of the boards by a 33-23 margin.
HAMPTON 13 8 14 18 -- 53
CHATTANOOGA PREP 9 6 5 23 -- 43
HAMPTON (53) – Trivett, Anspaugh 4, Cadon Buckles 29, Campbell 7, Eugene Carrico 12, Lyons, Hicks, Point 1, Robinson.
CHATTANOOGA PREP (43) – Turnbow 4, Williams 9, Bulis 5, Eli Gaines 11, Derrick Roberson 12, Jones 2, Tucker, Randolph.
3-POINT GOALS: Hampton none; Chattanooga Prep 5 of 19 for 26.3 percent (Turnbow, Gaines 2, Roberson 2).
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)