Brainerd’s loss extends title drought for Hamilton County

Staff photo by Olivia Ross  / Brainerd's Dennis Lewis Jr. (3) dribbles past Alcoa's Eli Graf (3). Brainerd High School took on Alcoa High School in the 2A semifinal game at MTSU on Friday, March 17, 2023.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Brainerd's Dennis Lewis Jr. (3) dribbles past Alcoa's Eli Graf (3). Brainerd High School took on Alcoa High School in the 2A semifinal game at MTSU on Friday, March 17, 2023.

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — The seemingly endless championship dry spell for boys' basketball programs at Hamilton County public high schools will continue for at least one more season.

Although Brainerd refused to go away, ultimately the Panthers simply could not overcome a devastating second-quarter run by Alcoa, which held off multiple second-half rallies to win 71-68 in a TSSAA Class 2A semifinal Friday evening at Middle Tennessee State University.

The Panthers' loss at the Murphy Center came just hours after Chattanooga Prep was ousted in the Class 1A semifinals on the same court at the BlueCross Basketball State Championships.

Brainerd is the most recent Hamilton County public school to win a boys’ basketball state title, doing so in 1992. In the 31 years since, the Panthers (1995, 1997, 2016) and Arts & Sciences (2007) are the county’s only public schools to even reach a title game — with each of those teams finishing as runners-up.

“We’ve got the best kids in the state,” Panthers coach Levar Brown said. “Our kids go through so much adversity off the court that basketball is easy. They’re built for tough moments. Our kids have character, and they were prepared for this opportunity.

“We won every quarter but the second. The second quarter killed us. They got all the loose balls and timely rebounds, and that turned out to be the difference in the ballgame.”

Talented junior Jahvin Carter proved why he already has multiple scholarship offers from NCAA Division I programs, scoring 18 of his game-high 32 points in the first half, then connecting on three of four pressure-packed free throws in the final 17 seconds to lead the Tornadoes (29-8) into a state title game for the first time since 1992.

But the win came only after Brainerd junior Boo Carter, who had drilled a long 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining to bring his team within two, came up short on another 3-point attempt just before the buzzer.

“It was tough to get that shot up,” said Carter, who finished with seven points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals, but was forced to play less aggressively down the stretch because he had four fouls. “I was looking for Dennis (Lewis Jr.) to pass to so he could shoot the 3, but when I looked up he was covered and there was only 1.6 seconds left, so I just threw it up. It looked good, but it is what it is.”

Added Lewis, who led Brainerd (25-8) with 25 points — including a pair of 3-pointers — but had multiple defenders preventing him from getting open: “We all thought the ball was going in when Boo shot it. He’s hit so many big shots for us that we were confident right up until it fell short.”

Lewis, a senior, shot 6-for-13 from the field and was 11-of-14 at the foul line. Quintus Broadnax added 10 points and Donivon Thomas scored nine with five rebounds and four blocks.

Alcoa’s Carter helped his team build a 12-point halftime lead by kick-starting an 11-2 second-quarter run, but the Tornadoes then had to hold off multiple second-half rallies by the pesky Panthers.

After a teammate missed two free throws, Alcoa’s Elijah Cannon rebounded the second miss and was fouled on the putback, which fell through the basket after bouncing off the top of the backboard, resulting in a three-point play that pushed the Tornadoes' lead to 66-59 with 2:06 to go.

But despite facing double-digit deficits in each of the final three quarters, Brainerd — which had won 10 straight games and 15 of its past 16 to reach the semifinals — pulled to within one possession of tying or taking the lead late in both the third and fourth.

Alcoa, which has won 21 of its past 22 games, advances to Saturday's final against Douglass (28-8), a 56-43 winner over Giles County in the second semifinal.

“We’re fortunate to win the game,” Tornadoes coach Ryan Collins said. “We never wavered and never gave up the lead, and we are just kept finding ways to make big shots when we needed them to win games.”

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