Brainerd holds off Pearl Cohn, advances to state semifinals [photos]

Brainerd holds off Pearl Cohn, advances to state semifinals [photos]

March 13th, 2019 by Stephen Hargis in Sports - Preps

Brainerd's Laderron Freeman takes a free throw during the Panthers' TSSAA Class AA state semifinal against Pearl Cohn on Wednesday at MTSU's Murphy Center in Murfreesboro. Brainerd won 76-73.

Photo by Erin O. Smith /Times Free Press.

Updated at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, with more information.

Gallery: Brainerd advances

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MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — In the end, much as it has throughout the season, Brainerd's boys' basketball team found a way.

With their Class AA state quarterfinal tied late, the Panthers held Pearl Cohn scoreless over the final 1:19 and senior Trey Owten not only accounted for the only points of the last minute, he stole an inbounds pass and dribbled out the closing seconds for a 76-73 win Wednesday at Middle Tennessee State University.

"It was do or die there at the end, so I knew I had to make a play," said Owten, who finished with 12 points, including his team's final five during a two-minute stretch. "I knew he was going to throw it backcourt because he'd done that all game, so I just jumped to the spot where the ball was going."

Brainerd (23-10) will face Wooddale (31-4) in a semifinal at 12:30 p.m. EDT Friday.

Before the quarterfinal, Brainerd broke out new warmup shirts with the season's motto — "Say less" — written across the front. After struggling through a first quarter in which they scored just seven points, the Panthers let their defense do the talking for much of the game, forcing 19 turnovers and grabbing 19 defensive rebounds to limit the scoring opportunities for the Firebirds (20-11).

Pearl Cohn led by as many as eight points early in the second quarter, but that was before Brainerd went to its bench and changed the complexion of the game. It began with a 3-pointer from junior Ciante Chaney, which sparked a 12-0 run, with half of the points coming off steals from the Panthers' full-court press.

Kevin Halfacre Jr. ended the first half with a buzzer-beating 24-foot shot that lifted Brainerd to a three-point lead, and the Panthers opened the second half with a 9-0 spurt that eventually pushed their lead to double digits. Halfacre also beat the third-quarter buzzer with another 3-pointer to give Brainerd a nine-point cushion.

But the Firebirds rallied in the fourth, chipping away at the deficit until Miquan Tucker's 3-pointer with 1:48 remaining tied the game. Twenty seconds later, Pearl Cohn again tied the score, but Owten answered with a layup he followed with a free throw and Brainerd's defense made the lead stand.

"For the last month and a half of the season we've relied on our defense," Brainerd coach Levar Brown said. "We need extra possessions, so we try to increase the pressure on the floor.

"These kids have heart, man. They do whatever is required to get the job done."

Junior post Laderron Freeman and Halfacre, a junior point guard, led Brainerd with 16 points apiece. Freeman also grabbed a season-high 17 rebounds, while Halfacre connected on four of five 3-point attempts as the Panthers finished 11-of-22 from behind the arc.

"I didn't anticipate shooting it like we did," Brown said. "We haven't all year until today.

"The bench guys came in and changed the tempo of the game. They can get turnovers against anybody, and really those guys need to get a lot of credit for what we were able to do. We're just excited for this opportunity and plan on taking full advantage of it."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.