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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 12/23/16. McCallie School's Robert Riddle (23) performs a layup over Brainerd's Keyshun Bradley (5) during the Best of Preps championship game on December 23, 2016 being held at Chattanooga State.

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Clay-led Blue Tornado top Brainerd, repeat Best of Preps title

The boys' championship game in the 12th Times Free Press Best of Preps basketball tournament came down to size-loaded McCallie against guard-oriented Brainerd. But it was a Blue Tornado guard who stole the show.

McCallie junior point guard Junior Clay carved and weaved his way through the Panthers' defense all night, often after creating a turnover, often finding a teammate for an open shot and even more often taking it to the basket for 22 points. Clay was selected most valuable player of the tournament after McCallie defeated Brainerd 70-57.

"He makes us go," McCallie coach John Shulman said. "We've got shooters, but Junior is the one that has got to direct things."

The game featured another standout point guard in Kentrell Evans, who after a scoreless first quarter totaled 11 points for Brainerd.

"Kentrell Evens is really tough," Clay said. "He's cat-quick. He's a good friend of mine. I felt like it was good competition. He made me better. I made him better."

McCallie (11-1) came back from trailing 19-12 late in the first quarter and twice took 10-point leads in the second quarter. The Blue Tornado led 44-38 at halftime, which is when Shulman decided to make a defensive change from their customary press to a 1-3-1 half-court zone.

"We changed to a different defense because we couldn't guard Kentrell Evans in the open floor," Shulman said. "We changed defenses at halftime, and it went from a six-point game to a 20-point game."

The Blue Tornado's size was also a factor in the third quarter, which ended with them leading 61-45 after limiting Brainerd (13-3) to seven points in the period.

Jesse Walker was the only Panthers player who could match up with McCallie's frontline. He scored 13 points in the first quarter on his way to 30 in the game.

"Jesse is a monster," Brainerd coach Levar Brown said. "He's certified all-state. He earned it tonight. I don't think he touched it enough in the second half. That could've been conditioning. Or we were just not getting the ball to him and taking too many jump shots."

McCallie's other double-figure scorers were Max Shulman and Trip Butler with 10 points apiece. Clay had three of the Blue Tornado's six 3-pointers.

"He's a very, very good point guard," Brown said. "He's very tough. He's mentally tough. We didn't rattle him as much as we'd liked to have. He definitely runs things for them."

The Best of Preps title is the second consecutive for McCallie.

"I know how important this tournament is," Coach Shulman said. "I know how important it is to our people. I know how important it is to the people in Chattanooga. For a night, we get to say we're champs."

Contact Kelley Smiddie at ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter @KelleySmiddie.

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