The Bears played a familiar tune against the Eagles — taking a lead into the fourth quarter — but nearly struck a sour note in the end before a game-saving shot by Caleb Cain struck the final note in a 52-50 win.
Though the Bearettes (14-1, 5-0 District 5-AAA) did not play to perfection and put the game away like head coach Jason Reuter would have liked, his girls took what was given them by the Lady Eagles (14-4, 3-2) and made the most of it.
"I will say I do," said Reuter when asked if he liked the win over the Lady Eagles better than Saturday's victory over White County. "We held a team to 19 points. Their game plan was to pack it in (the middle) and keep us from getting the ball to our post. I would like to think we could have scored a little more, but they stayed in the zone defense until about a minute was left in the game.
"It was a very unusual game. It had a very peculiar score, 42-19. That doesn't sound like a Bearettes basketball game. I'm proud of our girls for sticking to our game plan. I think we came out ready to play and think we came out ready to play in the third quarter. I think we let our guard down in the second quarter."
The Bearettes, who missed on all four 3-point shots in the first quarter turned their attention to the inside and found success in the paint. Defensively, Bradley allowed nothing of consequence from the Lady Eagles.
"We should have shot it a little better. We were 2-for-15 on 3s and shot 45 percent on the 2s. But they shot worse than we did. I think our defense had something to do with that. It was almost like they were packing it in on their end, and on our end we were holding them from getting a shot off," said Reuter.
Holding a 12-4 lead after the first quarter, the Bearettes looked to junior center Brooke Copeland who led off the second with a towering hook shot to make it a 14-6 game. For a few moments, the Lady Eagles found their game and scored six straight to cut the Bradley lead to 14-12.
From there, the Bearette defense regained control and held Rhea to only a free throw the rest of the way while adding six more to their first half total.
"The way to play it especially when a team is packing it in, we have to take what they give us," Reuter pointed out. "I think we shot some open 3s. We might have shot a little quick, but we've got some girls that can hit the 3-ball. We were 2-for-15. If we were 5-for-15 and we hit those early, the game's over. It's over in the first half. But, what happened is we just didn't hit open looks. We probably rushed a couple, but other than that our kids are trained to have the hammer cocked because we are going to see more zone. Yes, let's look inside but if they sag it in, the girls have to have the pistols cocked and ready to go."
Kayla Withrow arched in the Bearettes’ first 3-pointer of game to open the third quarter and give Bradley a 23-13 lead. Copeland followed with a basket plus one and finished the quarter with seven hard-earned points helping the Bearettes to a 33-17 lead. Copeland ended the night with 12 points and was the only Bearette to reach double figures.
Defensively, the Bearettes allowed only four points from the Lady Eagles.
Whitney Donaldson led off for Bradley with a 2-pointer followed by the only other 3 of the night for the Bearettes. Withrow and Maggie Thompson added the final touches on offense while again the Bradley defense shut Rhea down to the tune of two fourth-quarter points.
With two wins under the belt in four days, have the Bearettes found their post-Christmas identity?
"No we haven't," said Reuter. "We are 14-1 and I expect us to put teams away a little quicker than we are. We got so use to that. This is a different team, but they are sitting on the same record as last year's team with a chance to do the same thing last year's team did. We're still the team everybody is chasing in the district and region. We're just not winning as big or as early.
"But, all I'm concerned about is us continuing to get better. I do think this was a better performance than the White County game even though we scored less points. We haven't found our identity, no," he continued. "But, each game is so different and I'm sure the other teams in the district are trying to find ways to beat us and they are probably pulling their thoughts together. So we may see even more styles of zone down the stretch so we've got to be ready."
Like a dream that won't stop and repeats itself over and over during the course of a night, the Bradley Central Bears again found themselves too close to being unable to shake themselves awake enough to end what could have been another nightmare.
Seven times this season the Bears (7-8, 3-2 District 5-AAA) have carried a lead into the fourth quarter only to come away with a loss. Tuesday's battle with the Eagles (5-11, 1-4) came close to being No. 8 but for Cain's last second heroics.
"They are wearing me out. They are wearing me out," said an exasperated Bears coach Kent Smith. "Three different times in the game we are knocking on the door ready to blow them out. This team just still has not gotten it about playing the fourth quarter solid."
With a 16-2 Bradley lead after one quarter of play, a few Eagles fans didn't wait for the halftime intermission to make their way to the exit. As it turned out, the final minutes of the fourth quarter were the ones worth the price of admission.
The Eagles made a short run in the second quarter to cut the Bears' lead to 18-9. Matt Whitmire, who scored 16 points before the night was over to lead the Bears, put a stop to the quick streak and helped Bradley build the lead back to 11 points midway through the period.
Logan Cox finished with 11 and Bryce Copeland added 10 points to the total.
Another six-point run by the Eagles made it a 25-19 game with just over two minutes left and the Bears played well enough the rest of the way to lead 31-24 at halftime.
The Bears fired back up in the third with an 8-point run of their own to regain control. Taylor Bentley put the exclamation point on the quarter with a steal and score to make it a 43-32 game.
The almost nightmare in Evensville began to take shape early in the fourth.
"We got real loose with the basketball and they (Rhea) got a little momentum. Then we got out of the press and were going to play fundamental ball at the half court. We were going to play fundamental defense and we start gambling, they get some looks and we don't make our free throws," said Smith of the 4-of-8 effort from the line.
"We could have iced the game at the free-throw line, we don't. We got lucky that we came out of here with a win or it would have been the same old story we had those eight other times this season."
The Eagles, who trailed by 15 with less than three minutes left in the third, hacked the Bears lead to 44-38 with just under five minutes left to play. A Logan Cox 3 put Bradley back on top by nine with 3:18 to go, but three missed free throws in four attempts gave the Eagles the chance they had been working toward. Rhea tied the game at 48-48 with 1:13 left and again at 50-50 with 35 ticks left on the clock.
With time running out a missed 3 from the corner by the Bears set off a frenzy under the iron. Seemingly from out of nowhere, Cain came out of the pack with the ball and put just the right touch on the leather for the score just before the buzzer, stunning the home crowd and bringing Bears fans to their feet with a roar.
"It's a game we should have finished early," Smith said of the near disaster turned victory. "We'll take the win and hopefully all these lessons we are learning about the fourth quarter shakedowns, this team will at some point in time get the message it's a fourth quarter game. But, we'll build on it and get ready for Walker Valley."
In junior varsity action, The Bearettes opened the night with a 33-27 win over the Lady Eagles.
Taelor Hill led Bradley with 12 points with Lydia Pippenger right behind with nine.
The Bearettes led 10-6 at the end of the first quarter. The Lady Eagles put up a fight in the second scoring 11 to take an 18-17 lead into halftime. The Bearettes and Lady Eagles battled to a 25-25 draw after three quarters setting up a fourth quarter showdown.
It was the Bearettes who took control in the final period holding Rhea to only two points while scoring eight to take the win.
BEARETTES 42, LADY EAGLES 19
Bradley Central 12 8 13 9 — 42
Rhea County 4 5 8 2 — 19
Bradley Central (42) — Brooke Copeland 12, Donaldson 8, Reuter 7, Withrow 5, Carroll 4, Whitted 4, Thompson 2. Delane, Pippinger.
Rhea County (19) — Whitney Thompson 10, Brown 4, Miles 3, Levi 2, Kens, Loden,Wallace, Puser, Thurmond, Matthews, Freeman.
3-point goals: Bradley Central 2 (Withrow, Donaldson); Rhea County 1 (Thompson).
Records: Bradley Central 14-1, 5-0 District 5-AAA; Rhea County 14-4, 3-2.
BEARS 52, EAGLES 50
Bradley Central 16 15 12 9 — 52
Rhea County 2 22 8 18 — 50
Bradley Central (52) — Matt Whitmire 16, Logan Cox 11, Bryce Copeland 10 Cain 6, Bentley 4, McCurdy 3, Clark 2.
Rhea County (50) — Jalen Smith 26, Nick McWherter 18, Hill 2, Hall 2, Hunter 2.
3-point goals: Bradley Central 3 (Copeland, Cox, McCurty); Rhea County 3 (Smith).
Records: Bradley Central 7-8, 3-2 District 5-AAA; Rhea County 5-11, 1-4.