Bradley Central is peaking at just the right time.
The District 5-AAA champion Bears continued their pursuit of a trip to Murfreesboro and the state tournament with a 74-47 win over the Red Raiders of Coffee County Saturday night in a Region 3-AAA opening round game at Jim Smiddy Arena.
“It is another one toward our goal and that is to get to the region championship game and host a sub-state game. It's big, if you are going to get to Murfreesboro to host that sub-state game,” said Bradley Central coach Kent Smith.
“We won tonight, but I don't feel by any means we played our best. But, we did what we had to do to win. (The first quarter) was kind of a result of what we have been doing the last couple of days at practice. I told them in the locker room they can't cheat the process because the process will catch up with you.”
The Bears move on to face McMinn County in the region semifinals Tuesday in Crossville. The Cherokees defeated Cumberland County 60-47 Saturday,
Ooltewah and Cookeville will square off in the other semifinal after the Owls dumped White County 53-41 Saturday while the Cavaliers ended Cleveland’s season with a 76-54 outcome.
The victory is the Bears' 13th-consecutive win. Their last loss, 65-60, came on Jan. 14 at the hands of eventual District 6-AAA champion Cookeville.
The 28-5 Bears have not lost back-to-back games all season. A three-game stretch the first two weeks in December was as close as Bradley came to losing two in a row. The Bears lost to Ooltewah before winning over Baylor and then falling to Cleveland. They won seven of their next nine and started the current streak with a 69-29 win over Walker Valley on Jan. 17.
The Red Raiders won four straight early in the season. Coffee County then lost three in a row, won three in a row and since has sputtered to a 15-17 record. Coffee County's last regular season win came on Feb. 3, a 52-42 win over Cookeville. The loss was the Cavaliers' only district defeat.
Still, the Bears looked a bit stunned to find themselves on the bottom of a 9-2 score to begin the first quarter.
Bryce Copeland brought the Bears out of their short hibernation with a 3-pointer and sparked a 16-0 run. Hunter Chastain tied the game at 9-9 and Darian Johnson gave Bradley the lead with a free throw. Another 3 from Copeland with 38 seconds to go in the quarter and a trey by Chastain at the buzzer made it 18-9.
“We got into a rhythm and got some steals. They (the Bears) got a little bit desperate, got down 9-2 and decided they had better start playing,” said Smith.
The second quarter opened with Chastain and Copleland putting the Bears up by 11. The Red Raiders, playing without injured leading scorer Lance Crismond, came back with three points only to watch Chastain and Justin Houston put the home team up by 14 with just over three minutes left in the half. Chastain, who scored 21 points in the first 16 minutes, made it a 21-point game on a sparkling reverse layup that also drew a foul with 1:21 left. The 6-3 senior scored 14 points in the second quarter leading the Bears to a 42-20 halftime advantage.
Chastain ended the night with 26 points for the Bears, who as a unit went 24-of-42 from the floor inside the 3-point arc and 5-of-10 from the outside. Overall, Bradley Central made good on 29-of-52 attempts from the floor and went 12-of-21 from the free-throw line. The Bears controlled the boards with 30 rebounds to the Red Raiders' 16.
Coming out of the break, the Bears were lighter on the offensive end of the court, but still kept pressure enough on the Red Raiders to keep them off balance and unable to find a consistent rhythm. Copeland and Houston dropped in 3s helping Bradley to a 55-32 lead after three quarters of play.
Copeland finished the night with 15 points.
A 9-0 run greeted Coffee County to begin the final eight minutes. From there, the Bears went on cruise control maintaining the comfortable double-digit lead to move on to Round 2.
Smith said his group has the talent and maturity to continue its strong post-season run and Saturday's win will go a long way in helping grow more and more confidence.
“I thought definitely at the end of the district tournament we were,” Smith said when asked if he thought the Bears are peaking at the right time. “You hope to peak at the district and region tournament. We've won 13 straight so you hope they are peaking and playing with a lot of confidence. Those are the biggest things, peaking and playing with a lot of confidence.
“I think they have as much left in them as they want. If we will just keep on playing and take them one game at a time, they've got plenty left in them.”
BEARS 72, RED RAIDERS 41
Coffee County 9 11 12 9 — 41
Bradley Central 18 24 13 17 — 72
Coffee County (41) — Jonathan Henegar 16, Brock Ivey-Bodman, 13, Zeigler 6, McGee 4, Kirby 4, Jackson 2, Barham 2.
Bradley Central (72) — Hunter Chastain 26, Copeland 15, Morgan 9, Houstin 6, Whitmore 4, Contreras 4, Johnson 3, Bentley, Thompson, Cain, Cox.
3-point goals: Coffee County 4 (Henegar); Bradley Central 4 (Copeland 2, Chastain, Houston.
Records: Coffee County 15-17; Bradley Central 27-5.