MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – No one-and-done this time.
Proud Bradley Central weathered a furious comeback by Dickson County on Wednesday, smartly did not foul when the Lady Cougars got off four desperation shots at point-blank range in the final seconds and posted a 57-54 victory in the Class 3A girls state tournament at Middle Tennessee State University.
“That was a classic high school 3A basketball game,” said Bradley coach Jason Reuter after getting his first state tournament victory in six seasons. Both teams didn’t want the season to end.”
The Bearettes, who lost first-round games in 2013 and 2014, used their first tourney win in 16 years as a springboard into Friday’s semifinals against Oak Ridge (28-4), which eliminated Dyer County, 40-35, in the Wednesday’s first game. Game time is 10 a.m. CST at MTSU’s Murphy Center.
“We have an amazing tradition at Bradley,” said Emma Kate Brown, who led all scorers with 16 points, nine above her season average. “We’re so excited to win this game and come back Friday ready to go. I really think we have a chance to win the tournament.”
Oak Ridge is coached by former Bearettes star Paige Redman Green, who is married to the Wildcats’ boys coach, Aaron Green – his team was eliminated in Saturday’s sectionals.
“I think Paige is the best coach in that family,” Reuter quipped.
Another ex-Bearettes standout, Zandra Ownby Morris coached against Bradley several times when she coached at cross-town rival Cleveland.
Bradley Central, now riding a 20-game winning streak, was “on” from the start – at both ends of the court.
They raced to a quick 19-16 lead, held Dickson County (29-5) scoreless in the second period while building a 30-16 halftime advantage against a team that had its best player – McDonald’s All-American Lea Lea Carter in foul trouble.
The Bearettes had a 14-point lead at 37-23 in the third quarter, but the Lady Cougars started chipping away.
“We knew Dickson County was not going down without a fight,” Reuter said.
The final 45 seconds were pure hardwood madness, bordering on chaos.
Bradley junior Halle Hughes made two free throws with 44.8 seconds left, giving the Bearettes a 57-51 lead.
Bradley did not score again, but, as it turned out, had all the points it needed.
Dickson County’s Kailey Rosenbaum hit two free throws with 31.7 on the clock.
The Bearettes turned the ball over when Emma Kate Brown lost the handle in the corner while falling to the floor – the team had 13 miscues, a combined 10 from Hughes and Julia Gaither, who finished with 14 points.
The Lady Cougars’ Emily Beard, who paced her team with 15 points, got off a jumper, but Bradley sophomore Rhyne Howard raced to her left and jumped to block the shot, one of three she had in the game.
At the other end, Brown missed the front end of a one-and-bonus with 22 seconds left.
On the Lady Cougars’ last possession, Beard missed a 3-point attempt. Carter, who played only 16 minutes due to foul woes, missed a layup and a tap. The Lady Cougars missed two more shots underneath as both teams battled wildly for a rebound that neither team secured.
“On that last trip, with them down three points, I was holding my breath,” said Reuter, 168-26 in six seasons. “In all that chaos, the last thing we wanted was to give up two points and foul. We don’t like to give up four shots like that and people look at that and might not see anything we did right. They did a lot right by not fouling.”
And Howard’s block on Beard was a thing of beauty.
“I knew they needed a 3,” said the 6-foot-2-inch Howard, who had 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range, 10 rebounds and three steals. “I knew she was going to shoot the ball and I just went after it.”
Said Reuter of Howard’s defensive play: “Rhyne did that with anticipation. She knew Beard and (Cierra) Smith were their go-to girls and she anticipated that shot. Rhyne knows what it takes to win.”
On one first-quarter steal, Howard picked Dickson County guard Lainey Reed so deftly, that Reed took two steps before realizing she didn’t have the ball. Howard raced down court for a layup.
In all the chaos under the hoop, the final ticks ran off the clock and Bradley Central picked up its first state tournament win since the first round of the 2000 tourney. The Bearettes lost to Memphis Hamilton in the semifinals.
“There’s no denying we’ve been in some tough battles this season,” Reuter said. “We’ve seen that last situation before and when you’ve done that you’re not as likely to get rattled as much as a team that hasn’t been there as much.”
It looked like Bradley was ready to hit the cruise control button three minutes into the third period. Hughes made a steal, drove to the hoop and was fouled. She made two tosses to give the Bearettes a 37-23 advantage.
With Carter on the bench with four fouls, the Lady Cougars mounted their comeback. They outscored the Bearettes, 9-2, and cut the deficit in half.
Dickson County then hit Bradley with a 10-2 run and pulled to within 44-42.
Twenty-two seconds later, Carter re-entered the game.
Nine seconds after that, she made a layup to tie it.
Gaither countered with a bucket that gave Bradley a 46-44 lead. Carter’s second straight layup re-tied the game. Howard drained a 3.
Cierra Smith, who had 11 points, answered Howard’s 3 with her third of the game to pull the Lady Cougars back even at 49-49.
Carter, a Vanderbilt signee, hit another layup and Gaither drove the lane for a basket. Emma Kate Brown knocked down a pressure-packed 3 – Bradley’s final field goal – and a Gaither free throw gave the Bearettes a 55-49 lead with 1:25 showing.
Carter dropped in a layup and Hughes answered with her final two free throws, pushing the lead back out to six points and the final seconds became part of TSSAA state tournament history.
Reuter said one key reason Bradley won the game was the defensive effort Gaither had against Carter, who had three points in the first half. Carter finished with nine points, seven below her average, on 4-of-17 shooting.
“Julia was like a warrior out there,” Reuter said. “Our game plan was to put Gaither on her because she had the motor to do it. That probably won the game.”
Gaither, Howard and Hughes all played 32 minutes.
“I’ve guarded good players in the past,” Gaither said. “I prepared for it. I knew if I played good defense I could take her. She’s a really good player and I have a good feeling about how I played. I honestly don’t know where it came from.
Gaither found her shooting touch early, scoring nine of her 14 points in the first half. When the game ended she had made 6-of-11 shots and 1-of-2 3-point attempts.
Emma Kate Brown made 5-of-7 from the field and 3-of-4 behind the 3-point line.
Howard hit 5-of-11 shots and 3-of-4 3-pointers.
Bradley shot 50 percent (20-of-40) from the field, including 7-of-12 on 3s (58.3 percent).
Dickson County shot 7-of-22 on 3s (31.8 percent) The Lady Cougars were 22-of-56 (39.3 percent) from the floor and many of those shots were hotly contested by the Bearettes.
“We’re so excited about this,” Emma Kate Brown said. “It means everything for us to get to this point. As for me, I’m ready to get that gold ball (state title).”
Dickson County 16 0 21 17 – 54
Bradley Central 19 11 12 15 – 57
Dickson County (54) – Carter 9, Kailey Rosenbaum 11, Reed 8, Purvine, Emily Beard 15, Roberts, Cierra Smith 11, Daniel.
Bradley Central (57) – Rhyne Howard 13, Julia Gaither 14, Hughes 8, K. Brown, Emma Kate Brown 16, Morgan, Mcree.
3-Point Goals – Dickson County 7 (Beard 3, Smith 3, Reed 1), Bradley Central 7 (Howard 3, E. Brown 3, Gaither 1)
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)
Emma Kate Brown, who led Bradley Central with 16 points, gets an open look on a jump shot Wednesday in the Class 3A state tournament. Brown was a key player in the Bearettes' 57-54 quarterfinal win against Dickson County.
- Photo2 by Dennis Norwood