TSSAA BOYS' BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
Middle Tennessee State University
Local teams' opening games (all times EDT)
Howard (21-9) vs. Liberty (28-6), 12:45 p.m.
Ooltewah (27-4) vs. Memphis Central (18-9), 7:45 p.m.
Grace Academy (19-10) vs. Friendship Christian (25-3), 7:45 p.m.
Everything about the boys' state basketball tournament will have a familiar feel for Howard.
The Hustlin' Tigers are making their third trip in three years to Murfreesboro and again will step on the Murphy Center court to face Liberty Tech. The TSSAA held a blind draw Saturday morning to determine the matchups for this week's state tournament at Middle Tennessee State University, and Howard (21-9) drew third-ranked Liberty (28-6) in the opening round for the second time in three years. And they met in the semifinals last year.
They tip off their Class AA game Wednesday at 12:45 p.m. EDT.
The Crusaders have knocked Howard out of the state tournament the last two seasons. The winner Wednesday will face the winner between fifth-ranked Alcoa (30-5) and Memphis Mitchell (21-9) in Friday's semifinals.
The Hustlin' Tigers led Liberty for most of last year's meeting, but turnovers led to a 13-4 Crusaders run in the final three minutes. Coming into this year's matchup, Liberty's last six wins have been by double figures.
"It didn't matter to me who we drew," Howard coach Walter McGary said. "If we come to play, I don't care if we open up with the team everybody thinks is the best or one of the weakest. We just need to take care of us.
"Moreso than any other time of going over there, because of how we can play defensively, we have a chance to beat anybody there."
In the AAA bracket ninth-ranked Ooltewah (27-4) opens its first state appearance since 1980 against Memphis Central (18-9) at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday. The winner of that game will face Cherokee (26-8) or Clarksville (25-11) on Friday.
"To come out of Memphis you know they have to be awfully good," Owls coach Jesse Nayadley said. "But we've been playing pretty good ourselves lately. Our bracket seems to be pretty wide open and I don't know of a team that has one stud you worry about, or one team that looks like a bad match for us.
"Obviously we've got a little home work to do because we don't know a lot about them yet, but we have film on them so we'll get to work preparing and be ready to go."
In Class A, Grace Academy (19-10) plays in the last quarterfinal game, taking on third-ranked Friendship Christian (25-3) at 7:45 p.m. Thursday. The winner will play the winner between fourth-ranked McEwen (30-1) and Cloudland (22-12) in Friday's semis.
Friendship Christian, which blew away Arts & Sciences by 37 in the sectional round, has won its last four games by at least 15 points after being upset in its district championship game.
"We felt like we drew one of the top two teams in the tournament," Grace coach Jon Mattheiss said. "We know they're solid in the post with quick guards and they're probably the most athletic team there. But there are no easy games at this point, and to be honest we feel pretty good about getting them in the first round. You're probably going to have see them at some point, so I would rather play them in the first game."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...