MURFREESBORO, Tenn.-After Thursday's Class AAA quarterfinal matchup against McMinn County, Bearden basketball coach Mark Blevins noted that his top-ranked Bulldogs ran only nine plays in the first half but led 46-27 at the break.
Why? Pressure defense.
Bearden forced 13 first-half turnovers and shot 63 percent in building the 19-point lead, ultimately cruising to a 76-48 victory in the Murphy Center to advance to today's semifinals. The Bulldogs will face the winner of the Siegel-Whites Creek game at 7:45 p.m. EDT.
USC-Upstate signee Ty Greene led the Bulldogs with 32 points, including 22 on 8-for-11 shooting in the first half. Spencer Peake scored 10 for the Bulldogs (34-2). Cedric Nevins had 16 points to lead the Cherokees (24-11), while Dante Arnwine had 11.
Greene's output was a season high for the senior.
"He had how many?" Arnwine said about Greene's first-half scoring output. "Had we known about that, we probably could have tried a little better to stop him.
"They are the No. 1 team in the state for a reason, but we could have handled that better."
The Cherokees committed 24 turnovers, which led to 34 Bearden points.
"We knew what was coming as far as their defensive pressure, but they turned it up a notch," McMinn coach Keith Elliott said.
Bearden led 8-6 after a jump shot by McMinn's Nevins but went on a 20-5 run over the final 4:46 of the first quarter, stretching the lead to 17 points. McMinn managed to play evenly with the Bulldogs in the second period, but the result was still a 19-point deficit going into the half.
Bearden then stretched the lead to 31 in the third quarter before giving way to the reserves in the final period.
"As a senior, I couldn't ask for more than this," Arnwine said. "Being at the state tournament makes you one of the top eight teams in the state, which is an accomplishment in itself. It was a good ride. We didn't want tonight to be the end, but life doesn't always go the way we want it."
Added Elliott: "I'm still very proud of these guys. The way we played this season far exceeded my expectations, and their accomplishments are well-deserved."