CLEVELAND, Tenn. - A group of Bradley Central basketball players sat around Cleveland radio announcer Corky Whitlock Tuesday, each getting his own chance to speak. Similar to Tuesday night's District 5-AAA championship game against Ooltewah, they were prepared when their time came.
Led by 21 points from Bryce Copeland, the Bears held on to defeat the Owls 64-58 Tuesday night at Jim Smiddy Arena, claiming their first district championship since 2007. Bradley (26-5) will host Coffee County in the first round of the Region 3-AAA tournament Saturday, while the Owls (24-4) will entertain White County.
McMinn County took third in the tournament, defeating Cleveland 60-53 behind 28 points from Cedric Nevins. Both the Cherokees and Raiders will travel Saturday to either Cookeville or Cumberland County. Quarterfinal winners will play at Cumberland County next Tuesday.
"This is just an indescribable feeling," Bradley senior Miles Christian said. "Ever since I was a freshman, I've wanted a district championship. This is the best ballclub I've been on; we're a family, like brothers."
The Bears forced 19 turnovers. Leading 37-29 at halftime, they stretched it to 14 in the third quarter on a layup by Miles Morgan, then remained there after another Morgan layup to start the fourth quarter. Ooltewah battled back, though, with a 19-5 run to tie the game at 58 on a layup by Mikhail Creech.
His layup would be the last points the Owls scored, however, as Copeland hit a driving layup to give the Bears the lead for good. Darien Johnson added another transition layup and Copeland hit two free throws for the final tally.
"Defensively I thought we were pretty effective," Bradley coach Kent Smith said. "The guys did a good job of staying locked in, even when they made their run. We showed our discipline, even when they started hitting some shots."
As was the case the last time the two teams played, a game won by Bradley, the Bears held District 5-AAA player of the year Jervon Johnson below 10 points, as the senior finished with nine. Early in the game, they played a matchup zone defense, which they were forced to abandon after Antonio Jackson hit two first-half 3s.
"We knew they were going to come out firing. We had to shade to [Johnson's] side and make things tough for him," senior Justin Houston said. "We look at him as the 'head of the snake,' so we had to shut him down."
Morgan had 12 pointso and Houston 10 for the Bears. Hunter Chastain added nine.
Creech finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Owls, while Jacqueze Robinson scored 13 and Jackson had 12.
"We didn't play defense for three quarters," Ooltewah coach Jesse Nayadley said. "I don't know why -- just put the blame on me. ... I didn't have the team ready to play. It was pathetic, honestly; we let them run around and do what they wanted to do. In four minutes, we come from 12 down to tie the game, but it is what it is.
"We'll learn from this and move on."