CLEVELAND, Tenn. - While Bob Williams admitted the first half of Tuesday's District 5-AAA boys' championship basketball game was not aesthetically enjoyable, the Walker Valley coach found it pleasing nonetheless.
His Mustangs escaped the first half against equally cold Bradley Central with a 17-16 lead despite being out-rebounded by five and going the final five minutes with two points. They then took the Bears' best defensive shot in the second half, gave it right back and rode the hot hand of Lucas Korn for a 51-41 win.
"The defense was the difference," Williams said. "Both teams played great defense in the first half, and I'm sure it wasn't much fun to watch from an offensive standpoint, but both teams were getting after it. In the second half the key was getting rebounds. Both Jackson Brownfield and Lucas Korn did a great job there."
Both teams will move on to the region tournament.
A 7-2 run to start the second half -- an offensive explosion for this defensive battle -- gave Walker Valley (18-11) a six-point lead, but Bradley's Bryce Copeland then started doing his usual damage. He scored the Bears' final seven points in the third period, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer, to close the gap to 30-27.
However, a 6-2 Walker Valley run to open the final period stretched the lead to eight, and when Korn took a sharp pass from Austin Harwood into the lane for a layup, the lead was nine with 3:42 to play.
Bradley fought back, with Taylor Bentley's steal and layup off an inbounds pass cutting the lead to three with 2:35 to play. Korn, though, hit a short jump shot and, after an exchange of turnovers, got a layup off Tucker Godfrey's drive-and-dish for an eight-point lead, the game's final dagger.
"This is what we've been looking for the whole season, and we finally came through," Korn said of the program's first district title in four years. "We picked up our intensity and we just never let up. We adjusted a little bit to the physical play, but the big thing was we just played our hearts out."
Korn finished with 16 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, while Godfrey and Harwood scored 11 points each and Caio Hsyinger tallied 10. Copeland scored 21 but was the only Bear in double figures.