“We are starting to play better. We’ve had an excellent week of practices,” declared the 17-year veteran head coach after his Bears blew out it’s longest rival, McMinn County, by a 76-49 tally Friday evening at Jim Smiddy Arena.
“The key tonight was our balance,” coach Smith assessed. “We had four guys score in double figures. Defensively, we should have done more with their (21) turnovers, but we had a good night offensively.”
Senior guard Bryce Copeland, who led the Bears with 26 points, agreed. “We were playing together tonight. We have a lot of guys playing together for the first time (this season), so it has taken some time to get used to each other, but we’re starting to gel. We’ll be better down the road.”
Fellow senior Matt Whitmire posted a career-high 21 points in the victory that improves the Bear to 4-5 on the season and 2-2 in District 5-AAA play.
Off to their best start since legendary coach Jim Smiddy’s 1992-93 team went 28-0, the Bearettes pushed their unbeaten string to 10 games by withstanding an early struggle and a second half that had just a one-point scoring difference for a 66-48 victory over the improved Lady Cherokees.
“They (McMinn) are much better this year,” Bradley coach Jason Reuter praised. “They came out with a good game plan and caused us some problems early until we adjusted.”
After taking time to celebrate Christmas, both Black-and-Gold squads will be in holiday tournament action later in the week.
The Bears are returning to the Maryville Christmas Tournament, beginning with a 2:30 game Wednesday afternoon against Campbell County. Depending on Wednesday’s results coach Smith’s squad will play at either 2:30 or 8 p.m. Thursday as the event continues daily through Saturday.
Instead of going to Florida this year, the Bearettes are heading to Spartanburg, S.C., for the tough Upward Classic. Coach Reuter’s girls will take the court Thursday at 2:30 against the defending Georgia state champs from Fayette County.
Depending on the outcome Bradley will face either the host Dorman team, which was a state runner-up in South Carolina last season, or a strong Elizabethton (10-1) squad from upper East Tennessee at either 4 or 7 p.m. Friday. The tournament, that last year drew more than 90 college scouts and coaches, will wrap up Saturday.
The Bears netted nine of Friday night’s first 11 points and built an 11-point advantage when Whitmire got a hoop and some harm for an old-fashioned three-point play with a minute left in the opening frame.
Back-to-back 3s by Austin Hayes pulled McMinn (5-6, 2-3) to within five at the first break, and when he drained another to open the second frame, the difference was down to two points.
After Bear junior Logan Cox and McMinn’s Bo Marshall traded treys, Copeland and Cox both hit from distance twice more as part of a 21-6 run to blow the game apart.
Holding a 15-point lead at the intermission, Bradley netted the first five points of the second half and pushed the difference to 21 points three times before settling for a 19-point lead going into the final eight minutes of play.
Once again the first five points of the frame belonged to the home team before a 10-4 run to close the game pushed the difference to 27 at the final buzzer.
Copeland added four rebounds, four steals and a pair of assists to his 26 markers, while Whitmire snagged a trio of caroms to go with his 21 points.
Cox drained a trio of treys on the night on his way to 13 points, plus he copped three thefts, while Taylor Bentley helped out the winning cause with 10 points, four assists, four rebounds and four steals.
The Bears won the battle of the boards by a 31-18 margin and took advantage of 21 Cherokee turnovers.
Bradley shot 50 percent from the field, going 19-for-35 from in front of the arc and 7-of-17 beyond it.
Lady Cherokees 48
The Bradley girls leapt out to their usual quick start with back-to-back 3-pointers by senior Brandi Whitted and junior Whitney Donaldson being the first points to go up on the scoreboard.
However, another long-range bomb by Whitted was the only Bearette points over the next four minutes as the girls from Athens fought back to take the lead with a half dozen steals and six missed shots by the hosts allowing an 11-3 run.
A jumper by senior Kayla Withrow and back-to-back spinning half hooks by junior Brooke Copeland shifted the momentum back to Bradley, who led 15-11 at the first break.
The second period looked more like Bearette basketball, putting 19 points on the board while holding McMinn to just a pair of field goals and a free throw during the eight-minute span.
Despite being down by 17 at the half, McMinn County (7-4, 3-2) opened the second half with a 14-4 run to close the gap to a half dozen.
After Reuter called a timeout to regroup his troops, the Bearettes put the next 11 points on the board and led by 16 heading into the final frame.
That was as close as the Lady Cherokees would come as Bradley pushed the advantage to 23 at one point with Copeland pumping in 11 of her game-high 19 points before the visitors netted nine of the game’s final 12 points.
Copeland added eight rebounds, a couple of steals and a pair of blocked shots to her offensive numbers.
Rebecca Reuter posted a double-double with 13 points, including a perfect 9-for-9 at the free throw line, and 14 rebounds. The 6-foot-2 junior also dished out three assists and blocked a couple of shots.
Withrow finished with nine points, four steals and a block, while Whitted netted eight points and cleared four caroms.
Donaldson handed out nine assists, scored eight points, snatched four boards and copped a trio of steals, while senior Baylee Carroll helped out with five points and a half dozen rebounds.
“We had a couple of runs where we were missing easy shots and we made way too many turnovers (23),” commented coach Reuter. “We were able to dominate on the boards (38-24) and our offense played well at times.”
“I know it sounds strange to say we didn’t play well in an 18-point win, but we need to work on some things we saw tonight,” he added.
McMinn County 11 6 16 15 — 48
Bradley Central 15 19 15 17 — 66
LADY CHEROKEES (48) — Haley Ward 14, Alisa Guardiola 13, Keke Smith 11, Burke 7, Robinson 2, Dispinsai 1, Simbeck.
BEARETTES (66) — Brooke Copeland 19, Rebecca Reuter 13, Kayla Withrow 9, Brandi Whitted 8, Whitney Donaldson 8, Baylee Carroll 5, Maggie Thompson 2, Maddie Stallings 2, Lindsey Davis, Kayla Delane, Lydia Pippenger.
3-POINTERS: McMinn County 4 (Ward, Burke, Guardiola, Smith); Bradley 5 (Whitted 2, Withrow, Donaldson, Carroll).
FREE THROWS: McMinn County 4-of-11; Bradley 12-of-19.
RECORDS: McMinn County 7-4, 3-2 District 5-AAA; Bradley 10-0, 4-0 District 5-AAA.
McMinn County 13 15 14 7 — 49
Bradley Central 18 25 18 15 — 76
CHEROKEES (49) — Austin Hayes 19, Quentin Versa 11, Simpson 6, Jones 5, B. Marshall 3, Edgeman 3, Martin 2, Sanders, Arnwine, L. Marshall, Brown, Hammonds, Armstrong, Eaton.
BEARS (76) — Bryce Copeland 26, Matt Whitmire 21, Logan Cox 13, Taylor Bentley 10, Dee Crisp 4, Caleb Cain 2, Daniel Clark, Baylor Terrell, Walker McGowan, Bradley McCurdy, Tucker Maroon, Ty Morgan.
3-point goals: McMinn County 6 (Hayes 5, B.Marshall); Bradley Central 6 (Copeland 3, Cox 3).
Free throws: McMinn Couny 7-of-11; Bradley Central 17-of-21.
Records: McMinn County 5-6, 2-3 District 5-AAA; Bradley Central 4-5, 2-2 District 5-AAA.