CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- After making a trio of bad turnovers late in Tuesday's contest against rival Bradley Central, D.J. Bowles made the decision to quit passing. It was the best decision he could have made.
Bowles hit four clutch free throws in the final 28 seconds, and D.J. Jones added a pair in the final minute. The Blue Raiders as a team hit 8-for-9 at the line in the fourth quarter and held on to defeat the Bears 63-61 in a District 5-AAA matchup at Jim Smiddy Arena.
Bowles finished with a game-high 24 points and added six rebounds for the Raiders (7-2, 4-0), who led 57-45 with 2:57 remaining. The Bears turned up the pressure defense, though, and Bradley's Miles Christian had back-to-back steals off errant passes by Bowles, with one leading to a three-point play and another to a foul.
Cleveland also was whistled for a 10-second violation during the Bears' 14-2 run.
"I threw a few bad passes, but I'll get better and we'll learn from this and get better," Bowles said. "I knew that as it got closer to the end, they were going to have to foul me, so I just waited on them, then hit the shots."
The Bears definitely helped the Raiders' cause late. After a Cleveland turnover, Bradley point guard Justin Houston couldn't handle a hard-thrown inbounds pass from Darien Johnson, and Cleveland got the ball back with 30.7 seconds to go and was able to milk out the clock, despite a desperation 3 by Johnson that cut the margin to two late.
"I really thought we got comfortable," Cleveland coach Jason McCowan said. "We went from attacking to a more conservative style, which is partly my fault. If I had to do it all over, I would have attacked more and made them foul us."
Cleveland jumped to a 20-10 lead after a quarter, but Bradley erased that deficit with a 10-0 run to start the second and eventually took a 30-28 halftime lead on a putback by Miles Morgan at the buzzer. The Bears' lead grew to four to start the third quarter, but Cleveland responded with an 11-2 run sparked by its ability to attack the basket.
"We're at our best in the open court," McCowan said. "We only had three defensive stops in the second quarter, but once we were able to stop stopping them in the third, we could get into the open court in transition, where we're at our best."
Bradley fought back to within one on two free throws by Hunter Chastain, but the Raiders led by five at the end of the third quarter and seemed in control after a pair of free throws by Jarod Rhodes gave them their 12-point edge with under three minutes remaining.
Chastain finished 12-for-14 at the line and led the Bears (7-3, 1-2) with 22 points. Morgan added 17 points and seven rebounds.
Rhodes finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, and C.J. Bryant -- hampered by foul trouble in the first half -- used his slashing ability to score 11 points.
"We fought back late, but our defense in the second half was as bad as I've seen," Bradley coach Kent Smith said. "We couldn't keep [Bryant] out of the paint; we didn't rotate.
"I just never saw the look in my guys' eyes tonight. They looked dazed. This is a game that is played with emotion and pride, and we didn't show that until the end."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/gh3sports.