With 1.5 seconds on the clock and the teams headed to the benches for a timeout, a referee from the far end of the court came rushing toward the Bear bench and “T’d up” a Bradley player for supposedly saying something to another official who was standing right beside the player.
After veteran Bradley head coach Kent Smith, and the befuddled Bear fans, expressed their disbelief at the call, Darius Thompson, Blackman’s highly recruited point guard, calmly stepped to the line and sank both free throws to make the score 38-36.
The Blaze then threw the ball inbound to get the final ticks off the clock and they were headed to their first TSSAA State Tournament and Bradley’s season was over.
“In 30 years of coaching I’ve never seen a game end like that,” a shocked Smith said afterward. “That’s unbelievable. We’re expecting to go to overtime at that point and then the referee who was 30 feet away from our bench comes charging over and called the technical (foul). He claimed the player said something to the other official, but I didn’t hear it and neither did the official who supposedly had something said to him.
“It’s sad to have our season end like this,” the winningest coach in Bear history stated. “This is such a tight-knit bunch of kids who have come through so much, and to have the state tournament taken away from them like that — it’s a shame.”
At the time of the highly controversial call, both teams had made a dozen two-point field goals, a trio of 3s and three free throws in what seemed a well-officiated game to that point.
For Bradley fans, players and coaches the end to what had been a great season for both the girls’ and boys’ programs has been like a bad dream.
The Bearettes went 32-2 and were ranked fourth in the final AP poll, before District 5-AAA Player of the Year Caroline Smith was literally knocked out in the Region 3-AAA championship 40-point win, leaving her unable to play in a 44-43 overtime loss in the sub-state game Saturday night.
A little over 48 hours later the Bears, who posted a 27-7 record and won the District 5-AAA title, appeared headed to overtime to decide a state tournament berth when all of a sudden the rug was pulled out from under their hopes, forcing them to make the two-hour drive back home in a state of shock.
Blackman (26-3) started Monday’s sub-state action with Thompson, a 6-foot-2 junior point guard who is being recruited by several NCAA Division I schools, draining a “trey” on the opening possession.
In the following four minutes only Bear senior Miles Morgan found the bottom of the net as Bradley made just one of its first eight shots and turned the ball over three times. The Blaze got off just one other field goal attempt in the first four minutes and turned the ball over a total of 10 times in the opening period.
Thompson drained another long-range bomb with 3:44 left in the frame to put the hosts up 6-2, but the Bears found their range and ran off the final 10 points of the period for a 12-6 advantage.
After Blackman sank the first two shots of the second quarter, including Thompson’s third trey, to trim the difference to three points, Bradley responded with seven straight points including an old-fashioned three-point play by senior Hunter Chastain.
The Bears maintained a five-point edge, 23-17, at the intermission and scored seven of the first nine points of the second half to push their lead to double digits when junior Bryce Copeland drove the lane for the hoop and some harm in a three-point play of his own.
The Blaze then turned up the heat in “The Furnance” when Quindell Cousin sparked a 12-0 run with his second dunk of the contest, and the hosts were up 31-30 at the close of the third quarter.
Bradley regained the lead when senior Miles Christian drilled a 3-ball from the top of the key to open the final frame. On the ensuing trip down the court, the Blaze got the ball inside to 6-foot-5 Terrance Smotherman for his only basket of the game to even things up.
After the teams each hit 1-of-2 free throws within nine seconds of each other midway through the period, Blackman went up 36-34 when Thompson found Cousin underneath the basket with 3:25 left.
The Bears evened the score when Morgan put back in an offensive round with 25 ticks remaining and after the Blaze missed a free throw, Bradley regained possession and called a timeout with 19 seconds left.
Setting up a final shot plan, the Bears put the ball in Copeland’s hand but while he was making a cut, he lost his footing and went to the floor. That’s when Blackman snatched the loose ball and called timeout with 1.5 on the clock and the “shock-and-awe” events happened.
Thompson’s two freebies gave him 15 points on the night to go with six assists, while Cousin led all scorers with 16, plus he blocked a pair of shots.
Copeland topped the Bear effort with a dozen points, while Morgan netted 10 and Chastain eight.
Morgan cleared a half dozen rebounds, three of which came off the offensive glass, while Chastain snatched four caroms.
Christian swiped five steals in the contest, plus grabbed three boards, while senior Darien Johnson dished off three assists. Senior Justin Houston nailed a 3-pointer, plus copped a trio of thefts and dished off a couple of helps.
Both teams finished with 18 rebounds, while the Blaze turned the ball over 19 times, compared to 11 for the Bears.
Bradley hit 12-of-33 shots from in front of the arc and was 3-for-11 from beyond it, plus made half of their six foul shots.
Blackman got off just 29 shots, making 12-of-22 from close in and 3-of-7 from long range. The hosts netted 5-of-7 free throws.
“We had a great crowd come over for the game and support us like they have all year,” commented Smith. “This really hurts right now. I hate it for our fans, but I hate it more for these kids (the Bear players) who have worked so hard and then have it taken away like that.”
Blackman 6 11 14 7 — 38
Bradley Central 12 11 7 6 — 36
Blaze (38) — Quindell Cousin 16, Darius Thompson 15, Smotherman 3, Maher 2, McMillan 2, Sales, Freeze, Dowdy, Rosen.
Bears (36) — Bryce Copeland 12, Miles Morgan 10, Chastain 8, Houston 3, Christian 3, Whitmire, Johnson.
3-pointers: Blackman 3 (Thompson 3); Bradley 3 (Copeland, Christian, Houston).
Free Throws: Blackman 5-of-7; Bradley 3-of-6.
Records: Blackman 26-3; Bradley 27-7.