“We’re glad to have Bryce (Copeland) back. He gives us a lot of leadership on the court, plus it allows us to play more people,” remarked Bear head coach Kent Smith after the 63-51 victory over Knoxville Central.
After a six-week recovery from a broken forearm that required surgery, Copeland made up for lost time with 22 points, including the only two Bear 3-pointers, three steals and a pair of rebounds.
“He still needs to get his ‘basketball legs,’ and I probably should have rested him more in the second half, but it’s good to have him back,” added Smith.
Bradley’s ninth victory of the year, against three defeats, advances them to this afternoon’s second round against Murfreesboro Siegel (5-4) at 2:30 at the Maryville High School gym. The Bears knocked off the 2011 state semifinalist Stars by an 82-71 score to open the season.
After Knox Central netted the first two baskets of Tuesday’s game, Copeland announced his return by scoring the next seven points of the game to give Bradley a lead they would never relinquish.
After the Bobcats added their third bucket of the game to pull within a point, the Bears went on a four-minute, 13-0 run to close out the opening period with a 20-6 advantage. Bradley sank 8-of-12 field goals in the first eight minutes and took advantage of five steals, leading to eight fast-break points.
Knox Central (3-10) made 5-of-6 shots from the field and closed the gap to 10 a couple of times during the second quarter, but when senior Miles Christian hit a buzzer-beating 14-foot jumper, the Bears took a 13-point lead into the locker room.
After the intermission, Bradley stretched its lead to 15 before the boys from Knoxville went on an 11-0 run to pull within four.
Senior Miles Morgan netted the final eight Bear points of the frame to push the lead back to nine after the opening basket of the final frame.
The Bobcats were able to pull back within four with 6:11 to go, but once again Bradley responded with a 9-0 run, which included Copeland’s second 3-pointer of the night as well as a nice baseline jumper by the junior guard.
The Bears capped the victory by hitting 8-of-10 shots from the field in the fourth quarter, including a pair of steals and coast-to-coast baskets by Darien Johnson. The senior guard had seven steals on the day.
Bradley made 22-of-33 shots from the two-point area, but only 2-of-9 from beyond the arc in the contest. The Bears also sank 11-of-16 free throws.
Morgan and classmate Hunter Chastain also scored in double figures for the Bears with 12 and 11 points respectively. Chastain also swiped three of the 14 Bear steals.
“We came out of the gate a half step slow. You could tell we haven’t played in 12 days,” Smith related. “We played hard, but not always smart. We got up 15 points midway through the third period and then made some silly plays that let them back in the game. We need to learn how to put the game away when we’re up by that many.”
Knox Central had a trio of players — Denonte Patterson, Josh Popcase and Marcellus Roberts — net 13 points apiece.
The Bobcats shot better than 50 percent (21-of-41) from the field, but turned the ball over 25 times.
Bradley Central 20 12 10 21 — 63
Knox Central 6 13 16 16 — 51
Bears (63) — Bryce Copeland 22, Miles Morgan12, Hunter Chastain 11, Houston 6, Whitmire 4, Johnson 4, Christian 2, Contreras 2, Bentley.
Bobcats (51) — Denonte Patterson 13, Josh Popcase 13, Marcellus Roberts 13, Curtis 4, Capps 4, Wiesenberg 2, Smith 2, Cate, England.
3-pointers: Bradley 2 (Copeland 2); Knox Central 2 (Patterson 2).
Free Throws: Bradley 11-of-16; Knox Central 7-of-11.
Records: Bradley Central 9-3; Knox Central 3-10.