Jumping out to an early lead and fighting off several Ooltewah runs, Bradley was able to pay the Owls back for last year’s loss in the region title game with 60-56 final Thursday evening at the Raider Dome.
“We did what we had to do to win,” declared coach Smith, who was without a starter and a key reserve due to the flu.
“We only played six guys and they all gave us positive minutes. We took care of the ball and kept them (Ooltewah) from making big runs, like they are capable of doing.”
With the Bearettes winning the region title the night before, the Bear victory marked the first time both Bradley squads have claimed region basketball titles in the same year since 2004.
With the tournament in Ooltewah that season, coach Jack Harlow’s Bearettes defeated Cumberland County 50-29, while Smith’s Bears downed Rhea County 55-50 to claim the championships. The Black-and-Gold also captured both region crowns in 2001.
Thursday’s Bear victory was the first in three games with the Owls this season. As the region champs, Bradley (19-12) will get to host sixth-ranked Siegel (27-5) in Monday’s TSSAA Sectional Game.
Ooltewah (19-10) will have to travel to Murfreesboro to face top-ranked and unbeaten Blackman (29-0) on Monday.
Blackman has handed Siegel four of its five losses this season, including a 60-56 overtime game in the Region 4-AAA final Thursday evening.
The Owls were actually the ones to get off to the quick start Thursday evening, netting the game’s first four points. Copeland then hit back-to-back 3-pointers, with a pair of Ooltewah free throws sandwiched between, to even the game at 6-all.
The two teams then traded five consecutive treys with sophomore Daniel Clark and junior Taylor Bentley tickling the twine from distance for the Bears, while senior Antonio Jackson banked one in from the top of the key and then stepped out to NBA-range on the wing for another.
When Daaron Matson fired off the final of seven total long-range bombs in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the game, the Owls were on top 15-12. That would turn out to be their last lead.
Bradley caught fire, hitting five of its next six shots, including another Clark 3-ball, while holding Ooltewah scoreless for the rest of the opening period.
After ripping the cords on 9-of-16 shots for a 23-15 lead to open the game, the Bears’ shooting cooled off in the second period, with them making just 3-of-10 from the field. Meanwhile the Owls fought back to pull within a point of the lead when Ben Snider drove the lane for a hoop with 2:25 on the clock.
The teams combined on four missed field goals, plus a pair of free throws and turned the ball over three times before the next points were put on the board when junior Logan Cox drilled a 3-pointer from the wing to give the Bears a 31-27 halftime edge.
It appeared the treys would continue to rain down after the intermission when Bentley opened the second half with an NBA-range rainbow, but only three more 3-pointers, all by the Owls, would swish through the nets the rest of the night.
With the lead pushed to seven, Ooltewah once again made a short rally with a hoop and some harm for Jackson and a 3-pointer by Jacqueze Robinson to close the gap to a point with 4:06 on the clock.
Bradley responded with back-to-back baskets as Clark hit a baseline jumper and senior Matt Whitmire drilled one of his patented jumpers from the key.
The Owls had another charge near the end of the frame to pull within a single point, but a 3-point attempt rimmed out. Junior Baylor Terrell grabbed the rebound and fired a court-length pass to Copeland, who let the ball go just as the buzzer sounded for a fast break basket and a 46-40 Bear advantage heading into the final frame.
Whitmire and Copeland hit the first two buckets of the fourth period to push the lead to double digits, but the Owls weren’t ready to concede. They trimmed the deficit to 57-56 when Robinson grabbed a rebound and drove the length of the court with for the basket with 2:22 on the clock.
That would turn out to be the final Owl points of the evening as they missed their last four shots while Cox found Bentley open in the lane for a bucket with 1:35 remaining and then Copeland hit a free throw with 16.7 seconds on the clock.
“This is the best feeling of my career,” proclaimed Copeland. “Brooke (his 6-foot-2 younger sister) has three of these (region championships) and this is my first, but at least she can’t say I didn’t win any now.
“We played our butts off tonight and all through this tournament,” the 5-foot-11 senior guard declared. “I’ve had the senior graduates from last year’s team in my ears all week telling me we owed them (Ooltewah) for last year (the loss in the region title game) and tonight we paid them back.”
Copeland finished with 15 points, four steals, four rebounds and a pair of assists.
“This is a great way for him to wrap up his career and hopefully we’ve got a few more games to go,” remarked coach Smith. “After all he’s done for our basketball and football programs the last four years, he deserves to go out like this.”
Coming off a big performance (13 points, including four 3-pointers) in the semifinal victory over archrival Cleveland Tuesday night, Clark stepped into the starting lineup in the absence of senior Caleb Cain (flu).
The sophomore swing man improved on his career high from earlier in the week with 15 points of his own, plus he cleaned the glass for seven rebounds and dished off a couple of helps.
“Clark has been dynamite the whole tournament,” praised coach Smith. “With Caleb (Cain) and Dee Crisp out, it was the next man up, and they responded tremendously.”
Whitmire hit 5-of-7 shots from the field for 10 points, plus the 6-foot-4 post snatched a team-high eight caroms, dished out a trio of assists and copped a pair of steals.
Bentley helped out with eight points, seven helps and five rebounds, while Cox collected seven points, five boards and a couple of assists. Terrell came off the bench for five points and three caroms.
Bradley hit 57 percent (17-of-30) from the two-point area and five players, all but Whitmire, drained a total of eight 3-pointers in 20 attempts.
Earning All-Region Tournament honors, Jackson and Robinson led the way for the Owls with 20 and 19 points respectively.
Copeland, Clark and Cox were also named to the all-tournament squad, as was Lukas Korn and Caio Hysinger from Walker Valley, as well as CJ Bryant and Jahmal Johnson from Cleveland, plus Matson.
Region 3-AAA Boys Championship
Ooltewah 15 12 13 16 — 56
Bradley Central 23 8 15 14 — 60
OWLS (56) — Antonio Jackson 20, Jacqueze Robinson 19, Matson 7, Ware 6, Snider 4, Bass, King.
BEARS (60) — Daniel Clark 15, Bryce Copeland 15, Matt Whitmire 10, Taylor Bentley 8, Logan Cox 7, Baylor Terrell 5.
3-point goals: Ooltewah 7 (Robinson 4, Jackson 2, Matson); Bradley 8 (Clark 2, Copeland 2, Bentley 2, Cox, Terrell).
Free throws: Ooltewah 5-of-11; Bradley 2-of-8.
Records: Ooltewah 19-10; Bradley Central 19-12.
All-Region 3-AAA Tournament Team
Bryce Copeland (BC), Daniel Clark (BC), Logan Cox (BC), Lukas Korn (WV), Caio Hysinger (WV), CJ Bryant (C), Jahmal Johnson (C), Antonio Jackson (O), Jacqueze Robinson (O), Daaron Maston (O).