Bradley Central basketball coach Kent Smith knew he had some depth coming into the season, and he's used 11 different starting lineups already. What he confirmed Friday night at Ooltewah was that none of his future starting fives should include Hunter Chastain.
The senior came off the bench and scored 24 points, including 16 in the Bears' hot-shooting first half. They jumped to an 18-point halftime lead on the 10th-ranked Owls and held on for a 62-56 District 5-AAA victory.
Bryce Copeland added 10 points for Bradley (15-5, 5-2), which had to forfeit a district win over Rhea County for playing what was deemed an ineligible player. Guard Darien Johnson was penalized for playing in a church-league game.
"It wasn't even a game," Smith said. "He's the leader of a youth group and they were shooting ball at a Boys and Girls Club. I don't feel that Darien violated any rules. There was no presence of officials, and I don't agree with the TSSAA's ruling."
Johnson was suspended six games, but his presence wasn't needed Friday as the Bears built a 41-23 halftime margin. Bradley had 10 assists and only five turnovers in the first 16 minutes, when Chastain missed just one shot, as the Bears took what the aggressive Ooltewah defense gave them, finding gaps for layups and wide-open 3s.
"The guys did exactly what the game plan was," Smith said. "They did such a beautiful job in the first half, but I knew that Ooltewah was going to make a run in the third quarter because they are too good."
The Owls (16-3, 5-2) fought their way back into the contest soon after halftime, running off 12 consecutive points to start the period by forcing six turnovers in the first five minutes. Down nine going into the fourth quarter, they trimmed the lead to four on three occasions, the last coming on a Mikhail Creech 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining, but Chastain hit two free throws for the final tally.
"We know that Ooltewah is a good team with good athletes, but we felt like we were a better team and showed it tonight," Chastain said. "We need to get on a good roll in the district, and this is a good way to start."
The loss ended a 10-game win streak for the Owls, who had beat Cleveland, McMinn County and Tyner in their last three games before Friday. They rallied from double digits down to top Tyner on Tuesday.
Creech and Ben Snider led Ooltewah with 13 points apiece Friday. Usual top scorer Jervon Johnson was held to nine.
"Maybe we needed to be humbled," Owls coach Jesse Nayadley said. "We knew they would be hungry, and they played hard and we didn't. We fought back in the second half and could have come back, but realistically we can't keep digging holes because they're hard to make up."