CLEVELAND, Tenn. — By his continual reminders to Kendrick Thompson, Cleveland boys' basketball coach Jason McCowan has laid the groundwork for the junior guard's recent late-game success.
"I tell him to keep shooting, keep shooting," McCowan said. "He can't have a conscience about it."
Thompson hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:13 remaining and D.J. Jones hit five free throws down the stretch to give the Blue Raiders a 63-61 District 5-AAA victory at rival Bradley Central's Jim Smiddy Arena.
Thompson's 3 with 10 seconds remaning provided the difference in the Raiders' 70-69 victory over Austin-East last week.
Both teams Friday had a 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and each finished with four double-figure scorers, with no one higher than 14 points. Cleveland held a 35-26 edge on the backboards, with a 15-6 advantage in offensive rebounds. The extra opportunities led to some putbacks, but McCowan said the game was won on late defensive execution.
"I felt like we got them off rhythm to where we got some big defensive rebounds and stops," McCowan said. "Then we had enough composure to run good stuff and get to the foul line late.
"I'm glad we were able to come in, fight and get a quality win to start the year off."
The largest lead of the contest was a six-point edge by Bradley on a Bryce Copeland layup to start the second half, but Cleveland answered that with a 12-1 run featuring steals and defensive stops turning into quick transition baskets.
It was a far cry from the first half, when the Bears (1-2, 0-1) consistently beat the Cleveland press. The advantage in numbers led to 3-pointers by Logan Cox or layups or short jumpers by Caleb Cain.
"Cleveland gambles a lot and we knew we could get Caleb running that short corner," Bradley coach Kent Smith said. "His position was where the open shots were, and I was proud of how he played.
"We have to get Logan off more. He got some good looks tonight; he had some go down and out in the second half, but he needs to be a double-digit scorer night in and night out."
The fourth quarter was back and forth with six lead changes. Copeland missed a layup with under a minute to go, and Cleveland salted the game away at the line.
Jones led the Raiders with 14, adding eight rebounds, while Thompson had 13 points and five assists. Bryant and Dustin Little had 10 points apiece, with Bryant adding six assists and four steals. Jahmal Johnson had nine rebounds.
"Sometimes it looks like we're running wild out there -- and sometimes we are -- but I thought that overall it was a good basketball game tonight," McCowan said.
Bradley's Cain and Copeland scored 14 points each, while Cox and Taylor Bentley had 10 apiece. Bentley had nine rebounds, while Copeland added four assists.
"I'm not disappointed," Smith said. "We have a lot of new faces, and I had no idea how we'd react, but I feel good about us. Even though we lost, and I don't like losing to them -- or anybody -- we have a lot of stuff to build on."