After one of their worst shooting performances of the season in the district championship game earlier this week, Bradley Central bounced back with one of their best to eliminate an old foe in the opening round of the Region 3-AAA Tournament Saturday evening at “The Jim” (Jim Smiddy Arena).
“After the shooting night we had in the last game, it was very important for us to come out early and get the momentum and that’s just what we did,” commented veteran coach Kent Smith after his Bears led for all but the first minute of a 66-56 victory.
“I’m proud of the way we bounced back after that loss and came out here and took care of business,” he added. “We were unselfish and making the extra pass. I told them I don’t care if we win by 1 or 21, we just want to win.”
The victory propels Bradley into the region semifinals Tuesday evening at 7:30 against arch rival Cleveland High on the Raiders home court. Cleveland knocked off District 6-AAA champion Cumberland County 54-49 in Crossville Saturday evening.
District 5-AAA swept the opening round matchups with Walker Valley holding off Warren County 62-46 and Ooltewah dropping White County by nine points. The Mustangs and Owls will square off in Tuesday night’s semifinal opener.
Cookeville (26-8) came out of the gate by netting the game’s first two baskets, but after missing their three straight shots, Bradley (17-12) found its range and tickled the twine for nine unanswered points to take control of the momentum.
The Cavaliers were able to trim the quick deficit to just three points at 11-8, but back-to-back 3-pointers by senior Bryce Copeland and junior Logan Cox pushed it out to nine points with two minutes left in the opening period.
After leading 21-13 at the first horn, Copeland and Cox drained another shot from distance each to push the hosts ahead by a dozen, but Cookeville fought back with a 7-0 run, including a 3-pointer by Phillip Roper, midway through the second period to pull within five with three minutes on the clock.
Once again “C&C” came through with long-range bombs and the lead went back to double digits before Cookeville’s Elijah Campbell hit a shot from the lane with five ticks on the clock to make the score 35-26 at the intermission.
“We were letting them have too many second chances (9) in the first half, so I challenged our posts to keep their big men off the boards and we did a better job in the second half and gave up just one basket off an offensive rebound,” coach Smith related.
The Bears came out of the locker rooms strong, scoring six of the first eight second half points and led by as much as 14 points before Will Buford drove to the hoop with 10 seconds on the clock to pull the Cavaliers within 10.
Making sure to run time off the clock before taking a good shot in the final frame, Bradley was able to hold off the visitors and sealed the victory by draining 5-of-6 free throws in the final two minutes.
With his uncle Chad in town and celebrating his birthday at the game, Bryce Copeland did his best imitations of the former Bear standout by hitting 4-of-5 3-point attempts, 7-of-10 from the two-point area and 5-of-6 free throws for a game-high 31 points, plus he crashed the boards for nine rebounds and dished off three assists.
Three other Bears netted double figures on the night with Cox draining 3-of-5 from beyond the arc and all four of his free throws on his way to 13 points, plus he cleared a half dozen caroms and copped a pair of steals.
Senior Matt Whitmire and junior Taylor Bentley found the bottom of the net for 10 points apiece, with Whitmire also grabbing six boards and Bentley handing off four helps.
As a team, Bradley hit half of its 16 3-point attempts and was 14-of-31 from close range, plus 88 percent (14-of-16) from the foul line. The Black-and-Gold out rebounded the taller visitors 30-24.
Cookeville shot 42 percent (23-of-55) from the field, but made just 3-of-12 from beyond the arc and only 7-of-12 charity tosses.
Roper topped the Cavalier effort with 14 points, while Matt Case helped out with 13.
Six-foot-seven Lucas Ledbetter posted a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds for the Cavaliers.
Region 3-AAA Boys opener
Cookeville 13 13 16 14 — 56
Bradley Central 21 14 19 12 — 66
CAVALIERS (56) — Phillip Roper 14, Matt Case 13, Lucas Ledbetter 10, Payne 7, Henderson 5, Campbell 4, Buford 3, Richmond.
BEARS (66)— Bryce Copeland 31, Logan Cox 13, Matthew Whitmire 10, Taylor Bentley 10, Cain 2, Clark, Terrell.
3-point goals: Cookeville 3 (Roper 2, Payne); Bradley 8 (Copeland 4, Cox 3, Bentley).
Free throws: Cookeville 7-of-12; Bradley 14-of-16.
Records: Cookeville 26-8; Bradley 17-12.