By JOE CANNON
MURFREESBORO — For the second time in three years, shooting woes cost nationally-ranked Bradley Central a shot at a state title.After building a dozen-point lead early in the second period, the …
MURFREESBORO — For the second time in three years, shooting woes cost nationally-ranked Bradley Central a shot at a state title.
After building a dozen-point lead early in the second period, the Bearettes made just 4-of-22 shots after halftime to match their lowest point total of the season.
Houston presented the problem with a 52-49 upset of previously unbeaten Bradley in the BlueCross Championships semifinals Friday at MTSU’s Murphy Center.
The Bearettes ran into a similar shooting slump against Oak Ridge in the 2016 Final Four matchup.
“They (Houston) jumped us in the third quarter and we couldn’t buy a basket,” commented head coach Jason Reuter, whose Bearettes finished the season with a 33-1 mark.
“They got the first punch in the second half. We were up six (to start the third frame), then we came to the bench (at the end of it) down five.
“That quarter is essentially what did us in, even though we did come back to take the lead in the final minute,” he added.
The Bearettes regained the lead when junior Hannah Lombard made her second steal and fast-break basket of the final frame with 66 seconds on the clock. However, that turned out to be Bradley’s final points of the season.
Senior Rhyne Howard was whistled for her fifth foul with 40 seconds to go when she went for a steal.
“I didn’t think I fouled, but then again I shouldn’t have tried it at that point in the game,” the 2018 Miss Tennessee Basketball assessed afterward.
With the Kentucky signee joining fellow starter Anna Walker, who fouled out with 1:36 left, on the bench, and now down a point, Bradley got another bad break.
“We were down one and they blocked Jamaryn’s (Blair) shot with 14 seconds to go. We were able to get the ball to Hannah (Lombard) on the inbound, but she got double-teamed and was called for a charge,” Reuter related.
“It’s a bang-bang play that could have gone either way — block/charge.
“If they call the block, she goes to the line for two free throws and she’s the hero, but they called the charge. That gave Houston the ball and we had to foul them.
“Hemingway made both free throws with seven seconds to go, meaning we had to have a 3-pointer to tie, but we put up a two-pointer that didn’t go anyway.
“Those plays didn’t cost us the game. We shouldn’t have allowed ourselves to get in that position,” the veteran mentor assessed.
The two teams split the game’s opening 20 points evenly before Bradley went on a 13-1 run for the largest lead of the contest.
Region 7 champion Houston (28-5) fought back with a 14-5 spurt to close the gap to three points before the Region 3 champ Bearettes netted the final three points of the half to take a 31-25 edge into the locker room.
The Lady Mustangs, who fell to Bradley by a 59-43 margin in early December, galloped out of the second-half gate for the first eight points to race into the lead.
The Bearettes missed their first five shots ; plus, uncharacteristically made five turnovers in the first five-plus minutes before Howard snapped the drought with a fast-break basket with 2:35 left in the frame to tie the game.
Houston finished the period with a 7-2 spurt, as Howard added a pair of free throws at the 1:20 mark.
Lombard stole the inbound pass to start the final period and dished the ball to Howard in the lane. The team’s lone senior added two more freebies to close the gap to one point, but the girls from the Memphis area went on another 6-0 run for their biggest lead of the game at 46-39 with 4:08 remaining.
Howard broke the string with a 3-pointer exactly a minute later before Blair drilled a pair of free throws and Lombard one also.
Jayla Hemingway, who was a 2017 Miss Tennessee finalist along with Howard, netted the final half-dozen Lady Mustang points from the foul line, the first two coming at the 1:36 mark.
Howard answered with her final high school points with a pair of charity tosses 19 seconds later to set up the final-minute dramatics.
“The momentum swung in Houston’s favor in the third period, but our kids kept battling and we actually won the fourth quarter,” remarked Reuter.
“People who work really hard are hard to surrender and our girls didn’t surrender.
“Houston came back (after the half) fully loaded in the third quarter and I just don’t think we anticipated that, and that’s on me. I’ll take the blame for not having us prepared well enough,” he added.
“We only shot 1-for-9 (11.1 percent) in the third and just 3-13 (23.1 percent) for the fourth quarter. Houston was 7-for-15 for the (second) half.”
Howard led all scorers with 25 points, making all seven of her free throws, and finished her prep career with 2,650 points (2,499 at Bradley, 151 at East Hamilton as an eighth grader).
She also cleaned the glass for 10 rebounds, earning her 14th double-double of the season; plus, she handed out a trio of assists and blocked a pair of shots.
“I’m very thankful for all my teammates and the Bradley family for accepting me and pushing me to be my best,” commented Howard, who has been selected to play in the Jordan Brand Classic, a nationally televised all-star game on April 8 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“It’s been great and has helped me to get to where I am now,” said the Naismith All-American Honorable Mention.
“This team will keep doing what they are doing, keep working hard and are going to do good without me,” the lone Bearette senior proclaimed.
Blair helped out with 13 points, including 6-of-10 from the free throw line, plus copped a pair of steals, grabbed two caroms and handed out a help.
The 5-foot-3 “waterbug” freshman finished the year as the team’s second-leading scorer with a 7.7 ppg, including a postseason run that saw her average almost 13 points an outing.
Howard and Blair combined to take 35 of Bradley’s 43 shots in Friday’s contest and scored 38 of the team’s 49 points.
Lombard netted five points, plus snatched a couple of ricochets, swiped a pair of thefts and “swatted” a Lady Mustang shot.
Hemingway topped the Houston effort with 19 points, including 11-of-13 at the stripe, plus grabbed eight rebounds, while Destinee Wells helped out with 16 markers, including a pair of 3s.
“We know this is a game. Anytime you have big stakes there’s a chance for failure and it’s going to hurt,” Reuter commented. “That’s life, we’ve got to move on.
“This year has been one of my most enjoyable. Nobody expected us to be 33-1 and one play away from being in the state finals.
“We went toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the state (12 that were ranked at one point or another during the season) and beat them, but today we came up just short.
“We simply did not shoot well enough to win this game today, but yet we were still a play away from the state championship game,” Reuter assessed.
“These kids dug down and gave everything they have this season.
“Rhyne (Howard) is going to do great things at Kentucky. In my eight years of coaching the Bearettes, she’s the best player I’ve had.
“She’s made my four years with her great. We won better than 90 percent (119-12) of our games.”
For the third straight season the loss prevented a much-anticipated Bradley showdown with three-time state champion Riverdale for the title.
The top-ranked Lady Warriors (35-1) defeated Houston 77-50 in Saturday’s championship game.
Blue Cross Championship
TSSAA Class AAA Girls
Semifinal Game Summary
at MTSU’s Murphy Center
Houston;11;14;15;12 — 52
Bradley Central;17;14;4;14 — 49
LADY MUSTANGS (52) — Jayla Hemingway 19, Destinee Wells 16, Melisa Carter 9, Griggs 4, Davis 2, Kel, Trice, Ken, Trice.
BEARETTES (49) — Rhyne Howard 25, Jamaryn Blair 13, Hannah Lombard 5, Kaleigh Hughes 3, Alexis Barnes 3, Roberts, Mayo, Walker.
3-POINTERS: Houston 2 (Wells): BC 4 (Howard 2, Hughes, Blair).
FREE THROWS: Houston 20-of-29: BC 17-of-23.
RECORDS: Houston 28-5: Bradley Central 33-1.
Print subscribers have FREE access to clevelandbanner.com by registering HERE
Non-subscribers have limited monthly access to local stories, but have options to subscribe to print, web or electronic editions by clicking HERE
We are sorry but you have reached the maximum number of free local stories for this month. If you have a website account here, please click HERE to log in for continued access.
If you are a print subscriber but do not have an account here, click HERE to create a website account to gain unlimited free access.
Non-subscribers may gain access by subscribing to any of our print or electronic subscriptions HERE