MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The Brainerd Panthers have been in many close basketball games this season, winning most of them.
They were in another one here at MTSU’s Murphy Center on Friday afternoon in the 2A semfinals of the Bluecross Basketball Championships with the Alcoa Tornadoes, but they weren’t able to win as their season ended at 25-8 following a tough 71-68 loss.
Brainerd had built a big lead in their first game on Thursday against Fairview, but were able to withstand a torrid comeback by the Yellow Jackets to win.
A day later against Alcoa, the Panthers were on the short end of scoreboard in the second half. They made it close, but the Tornadoes simply made a play or two more at the end to win.
“We go through so much adversity off the court that we’ve gotten used to it, but these kids are built for toughness,” said Brainerd coach Levar Brown following the game.
“I thought we played pretty well for the entire game except the second quarter, but there are just times when the ball doesn’t bounce your way.
“Our goal was to get the ball inside as we had a size advantage and wanted to attack the paint. That’s what allowed us to get back in the game, but it seemed like they got every loose ball and every rebound.
“I really thought that last shot was going in, but it didn’t. So this was just another learning experience and we’ll be better because of it,” Brown added.
Alcoa coach Ryan Collins felt like his team was able to overcome some of his own shortcomings as a coach.
“There are times when I just don’t trust them enough, but we were able to overcome that and were fortunate to win this basketball game,” Collins began his post-game comments.
“We knew coming in that they have great guard play with Boo Carter and Dennis Lewis Jr., so we never waivered from our game plan. We were trying to throw the knockout punch in the second like we’ve done all year, but I wouldn’t let it happen.
“I don’t know how we did it, but we just find ways to win games like this. I thought the second quarter was a key as we were able to string together some stops and were executing our offense as well.
“They made things interesting in the second half, but we did a really good job at the line and that may have been the difference in the game,” he added.
Alcoa scored the first bucket of the game and led most of the way. Brainerd got a 3 from Kendrick Jones with 2:01 left in the first quarter for an 11-9 lead and a bucket by Donivon Thomas 40 seconds later put the Panthers up 13-11.
Brandon Winton Jr. then scored the final three points as the Tornadoes had a 14-13 lead at the first break.
The second quarter belonged to Alcoa as that one-point lead was eight two minutes in following a 3 by Winton.
Lewis scored the first six points of the quarter to keep the Panthers alive, including a drive down the lane with 2:41 before intermission to cut Alcoa’s lead to 29-19.
Jahvin Carter scored six straight points and Jordan Harris scored on a putback at the 1:06 mark to give their team its biggest lead of the game at 37-20 before Lewis scored the last five points for Brainerd to make it a 12-point game at the break.
The Panthers turned up the defensive intensity in the second half and made a nice run, using a 13-3 advantage to cut Alcoa’s 42-31 lead to a point at 45-44 following a drive by Quintus Broadnax with 1:35 left in the third stanza.
Eli Owens hit the first of two free throws with 33.7 seconds left to put Alcoa up 46-44, but it was back-to-back buckets at the end by Elijah Cannon and Carter that gave their team a 50-44 lead when the quarter ended.
Alcoa then scored six straight points to open the final stanza before the Panthers made their final run.
Lewis scored 12 of his game-high 25 points in the final eight minutes, including a 3 from the key with 32 seconds left to get Brainerd within three at 68-65.
Carter, who finished the game with 32 points and converted 13 of 15 from the charity stripe, swished a pair with 17.9 seconds for a 70-65 Alcoa lead.
Brainerd’s Carter, who played less than normal at the end after picking up his fourth foul with just over seven minutes remaining, canned a 3 from the key with 10 seconds left to make it 70-68.
Alcoa’s Carter then hit the first of two free throws with 8.9 seconds left for a three-point lead. Brainerd’s Carter then missed a long one just ahead of the final buzzer as the celebration began for Alcoa.
Carter had 32 points to lead Alcoa while Winton had 14 and Cannon seven.
Lewis had 25 to lead Brainerd while J.T. Hood and Broadnax were also in double figures with 10 each. Thomas was next with nine.
Alcoa had a 29-25 edge in rebounds as Eli Owens had nine for the Tornadoes. Carter had seven to lead Brainerd.
BRAINERD 13 12 19 24 -- 68
ALCOA 14 23 13 21 -- 71
BRAINERD (68) – Thomas 9, Dennis Lewis Jr. 25, J.T. Hood 10, Carter 7, Baylor 4, Quintus Broadnax 10, Jones 3.
ALCOA (71) – Harris 4, Jahvin Carter 32, Graf 5, Haun 3, Owens 6, Brandon Winton Jr. 14, Cannon 7.
3-POINT GOALS: Brainerd 4 of 14 for 28.6 percent (Lewis 2, Carter, Jones); Alcoa 4 of 11 for 36.4 percent (Carter, Graf, Haun, Winton Jr.).
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)