CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The Bradley Central boys' basketball team has struggled in close games this season, with its five losses coming by a combined 17 points. Friday night the Bears started to find a solution for that problem: Don't let the game get close to begin with.
Spurred by a defense that forced 10 first-quarter turnovers and four players scoring in double figures, the Bears earned a 76-49 District 5-AAA victory over McMinn County at Jim Smiddy Arena.
"It's good to get a win," Bradley guard Bryce Copeland said. "We know it's going to take some time. We've had some new faces and we just hadn't played well at times, but we're starting to jell a bit, and I expect us to be better down the road."
The Bears (4-5, 2-2) never were seriously threatened, taking a double-digit lead in the first six minutes of the contest and leading 18-13 after a quarter.
The Cherokees stayed that close due primarily to the shooting of forward Austin Hayes, who hit three of his five 3-point baskets in a two-minute span in the first and second quarters. His fourth 3 made it 28-22 with 3:53 remaining in the first half, but Bradley went on a 15-3 run over the next three minutes and led by 15 at the break.
The lead peaked at 27 twice in the final minutes of the game.
Copeland scored 26 points, while post Matthew Whitmire had a career-high 21. Logan Cox finished with 13 and Taylor Bentley added 10 for the Bears.
"I told the guys before the game that we needed balance," Bradley coach Kent Smith said. "We have guys other than Bryce that can score.
"We played well. I thought we should have turned them over more. We got out of the press in the second half, but any time you beat your oldest rival on your home floor, it's a good win."
The Cherokees (5-6, 2-3) were guilty of 22 turnovers, which was good considering their start. Hayes had 19 points to lead the team, while Quentin Versa added 11.
"I thought we would have given a better effort than we did," McMinn coach Keith Elliott said. "We had a good performance Tuesday [against Meigs County], but you can't turn the ball over like we did in the first quarter."