CLEVELAND, Tenn. - It didn't take too long for Cleveland senior Kendrick Thompson to reach his initial goal Friday night against rival Bradley Central. Then he played a vital role in helping the Blue Raiders reach their ultimate goal for the evening.
Thompson scored a game-high 22 points -- going over the 1,000-point mark for his career -- and the Blue Raiders shot a blistering 70 percent from the field and 67 percent from 3-point range in the second half to hand the Bears their first district loss of the season, 58-52 in a packed-out Paul Dana Walker Arena at Lee University. The win was Cleveland's seventh in a row and 10th in its last 11 games.
The 6-foot-2 Thompson entered the game four points shy of the milestone, eclipsing that mark on a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:20 left in the first half. He admitted he was pressing a bit early on.
"After I finally got that point, I loosened up and got going pretty well," Thompson said. "This was a big, big, big win for us in front of a great atmosphere, and we definitely needed this win."
The Bears (12-8, 8-1) had a healthy advantage on the boards but hurt themselves with turnovers as Cleveland continually full-court-pressed and tried to speed the tempo. Bradley had a number of miscues later in the game.
The teams traded leads throughout the third quarter, and a driving layup by Cleveland's Cantrel Ware with one second to go in the period gave the Raiders the lead for good.
Their margin peaked at 53-44 on a 3-pointer by Anfernee Scott with 3:16 left to play. Bradley was able to close to within three on a 3-pointer by Taylor Bentley with 1:38 remaining, but Thompson split a pair of free throws, then passed to Isaiah Beaty for a three-point play that clinched the win with 19.9 seconds to go.
"We were shooting too many jumpers early in the game, but I felt once we started getting the ball to the rim we started getting good shots," Cleveland coach Jason McCowan said. "We were able to speed them up on defense, and sacrificed height for speed, but I think we were able to get them fatigued late in the game."
Ware added 12 points for the Raiders (11-5, 6-2). Freshman Cole Copeland had 13 points to lead Bradley, with Daniel Clark scoring 12 and Bentley adding 10.
"Cleveland shot lights-out in the second half of the game," Bradley coach Chuck Clark said. "We needed a little humility, and tonight I thought we got it.
"I told the guys afterwards that the Lord finds ways to humble you, and he did that tonight."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.