MARYVILLE — After an exciting opening round victory, the Bradley Central Bears fell back into a familiar pattern from early in the season, surrendering second-half leads in three straight losses at the Renasant Bank Christmas Tournament at Maryville High School.
After a strong fourth quarter to seal a nine-point victory over Campbell County Wednesday, coach Kent Smith’s club saw a six-point, fourth-quarter lead turn into a 10-point loss against the host Maryville squad Thursday.
On Friday, Bradley was up by 13 at the half and eight with four minutes to go before going cold and dropping a 60-55 contest against Stone Memorial.
Saturday found the Bears traveling an hour and a half to face District 5-AAA foe McMinn County, who too had won their opener before dropping two straight games.
Although Bradley defeated the Cherokees by 27 points 10 days ago at Jim Smiddy Arena, the boys from Athens stayed close and forced an overtime period, during which they quadrupled the Bear output for a 57-48 win.
Bradley will spend the week trying to figure where things went wrong before returning to the Smiddy Arena court Saturday to face White County, a team that also made a late rally for a 65-61 win over the Bears in Sparta earlier this month.
BEARS 48, OT
Saturday’s battle between the old rivals began like the building was on fire, with the team combining to put 40 points on the scoreboard with Bradley holding a slim 21-19 edge.
However, someone must have opened the outside doors and the cold wind blew in as neither team could buy a bucket in the second frame. McMinn County (7-8) scored just two minutes in eight minutes, while Bradley (5-7) managed only a half dozen.
The Cherokees were able to cut the six-point intermission deficit in half with a 14-11 run in the third period and then took care of the other half in the final eight minutes of regulation to force an extra frame.
Once again the Bears hit a spell where they could find the bottom of the net in the overtime, scoring just three points while McMinn County netted a dozen.
Bradley made just 1-of-12 3-pointers in the contest and shot 44 percent (16-for-36) in front of the arc. The Bears made just 13-of-24 (54 percent) free throws.
McMinn also struggled from distance, connecting on only 2-of-10 bombs, while netting 20-of-42 two-pointers and 11-for-18 at the charity stripe.
Seniors Bryce Copeland and Matt Whitmire lead the Bear attack with 19 and 15 points respectively. The 6-foot-5 Whitmire pulled down a half dozen rebounds, while Copeland snagged four.
Senior Caleb Cain and sophomore Daniel Clark helped out with six rebounds apiece, while Cain and junior Logan Cox both netted five points. Junior Taylor Bentley helped out with five caroms and four markers.
McMinn County won the rebounding battle by a 40-31 margin, while both teams committed a dozen turnovers.
PANTHERS 60, BEARS 55
Friday afternoon, the Bears saw a 13-point halftime advantage shrink to eight with just four minutes remaining, before 2-of-9 shooting down the stretch allowed Stone Memorial to complete the rally.
The Panthers (8-6) made their final five shots from the field, plus 6-of-8 free throws in the last 45 seconds, to notch the five-point win.
Bradley netted a dozen of the game’s first 18 points, with Whitmire sinking the first six Bear points on a trio of 15-foot jumpers.
Stone Memorial showed their range early, drilling three long-range bombs to start their scoring and by the end of the opening frame had trimmed the difference to just three points.
The Bears came out hot in the second period, hitting 7-of-9 two-point shots, plus copping a half dozen steals — two each by Whitmire, Copeland and Cox.
After the Panthers pulled within a point with the first basket of the quarter, Bradley went on a 19-7 run, including a 3-pointer and an old fashioned three-point play by Copeland, who bounced back from a season-low six points on Thursday for a game-high 24 Friday.
When Bentley drew a hoop and some harm for a three-point play of his own with 6.4 ticks on the clock, the Bears had a 33-20 halftime advantage.
An early third quarter 3-ball by Bentley pushed the difference to its highest point at 14, but then the Bears went cold, hitting just one of their next nine shots and turning the ball over four times in a five-minute stretch.
The boys from Crossville began to chip away at the lead and pulled within four points on a three-point play by Brock Rowan with 21 ticks on the clock. A NBA-range 3-pointer by Clark put the Bears back up by seven at the buzzer.
Perfect shooting from the field on four two-pointers and a trio of treys, plus 7-of-10 at the charity stripe in the final period completed the Stone Memorial rally, as Bradley hit just 5-of-13 shots from the field and half of four foul shots in the final eight minutes.
Copeland battled for five rebounds and dished off four assists to go along with his game-high point total, while Whitmire finished with 16 points, five caroms, a pair of assists and blocked a shot.
Bentley helped out with eight points, while Cain cleared five ricochets and handed out four “dimes.” Cox claimed a half dozen rebounds in the contest.
Panther sharpshooter Rowan drilled four 3-pointers on his way to 21 points, while Justin Simmons netted 18 markers.
McMinn County 19 2 14 10 12 — 57
Bradley Central 21 6 11 7 3 — 48
CHEROKEES (57) — No individual scoring available.
BEARS (48) — Bryce Copeland 19, Matt Whitmire 15, Cain 5, Cox 5, Bentley 4, Clark, Terrell.
3-point goals: Bradley Central 1 (Copeland).
Free throws: McMinn County 11-of-18; Bradley Central 13-of-24.
Records: McMinn County 7-8; Bradley Central 5-8.
Stone Memorial 11 9 16 24 — 60
Bradley Central 14 19 10 12 — 55
PANTHERS (60) — Brock Rowan 21, Justin Simmons 18, Yoder 8, Matthews 6, Thomas 3, Spence 2, Troino 2.
BEARS (55) — Bryce Copeland 24, Matt Whitmire 16, Bentley 8, Clark 5, Cain 2, Crisp, Cox, Terrell.
3-point goals: Stone Memorial 7 (Rowan 4, Matthews 2, Simmons); Bradley Central 3 (Copeland, Clark, Bentley).
Free throws: Stone Memorial 11-of-16; Bradley Central 8-of-10.
Records: Stone Memorial 8-6; Bradley Central 5-7.