From watching game film, veteran coach Kent Smith knew his Bradley Central squad was going to need a hot hand early to have a chance against sixth-ranked Siegel in Monday’s TSSAA Sectional Game at “The Jim.”
The Bears didn’t.
After shooting lights out in all of its district and region tournament victories, Bradley missed its first half dozen attempts, including four from beyond the arc, on its way to posting its second-lowest offensive output of the season in a 59-38 loss.
“I knew we’d have to shoot well early to have a chance, but we didn’t,” coach Smith said after wrapping up his 17th season on the Bear bench. “They (Siegel) are the type of team that will make you pay for not hitting your shots, by grabbing the rebound and getting the ball out for a quick fast break, and they know how to finish their break.”
The loss brings the Bradley season to a close with a 19-13 record, one win shy of a TSSAA state tournament bid for the second straight year. “Only one team finishes the season happy, and this year it wasn’t us,” declared the Bear coach.
“I’m very proud of the team. Not many people gave us a chance to go as far as we did,” remarked coach Smith. “Beating Cleveland three times on their floor, including in both the district and region (tournaments), plus beating Ooltewah for the region championship, says a lot about their character.
“We won 19 games, and it would have been 20 if the second Northwest Whitfield game hadn’t been cancelled. It’s a great accomplishment considering we only had two guys back that had any real varsity experience.”
“All three (Bryce Copeland, Matt Whitmire, Caleb Cain) of our seniors are real competitors and played hard all season,” the coach praised. “Bryce has been a four-year starter and meant so much to our program and to our school. He’s the type of player you hate to see go.”
Copeland finished his career with 1,689 points — averaging 19 points, including 62 3-pointers, 5.4 rebounds, three assists and 2.4 steals a game his senior campaign.
Although Bradley made just 3-of-12 shots in the opening frame, the first made basket coming from Cain 3 1/2 minutes into the contest, it found itself behind just 12-9 at the first horn.
Siegel (28-5) scored the first 11 points of the second frame, including back-to-back slam dunks to finish off fast breaks. With the only Bear points in the period coming on a pair of Copeland 3s and two Whitmire free throws, the Stars had the hosts doubled up (34-17) by the intermission.
The second half was more of the same with Siegel pushing its lead to 25 after the third period and as much as 31 before the coaches cleared their benches for the final three minutes of play.
Bradley did net the game’s final 10 points, including a 3-pointer from freshman Bradley McCurdy. Sophomore Daniel Clark scored the final seven points of the Bear season with a nice baseline drive, a NBA-range trey and a steal in the lane and layup with three ticks on the clock.
Junior Taylor Bentley was the only Bradley player to net double figures, hitting a pair of treys on his way to a dozen points and handing out a trio of assists.
Copeland was held to just eight points, five rebounds and a pair of assists, while Whitmire surpassed the 500-point career mark with a half dozen to bring him to 503, plus he had seven boards and blocked a shot. Clark had four rebounds to go with his seven points.
As a team, Bradley hit just 21 percent (6-of-28) from beyond the 19-foot arc and only 25 percent (7-for-28) in front of it. The Bears did make all six of their free throws.
Siegel won the battle of the boards by a 41-31 margin, snatching 20 offensive rebounds, while the Bears only snagged 10 off their own rim. “They (Siegel) controlled the backboards,” declared coach Smith. “We were one and done most of the night.”
The Stars will making their sixth state tournament appearance in the 10-year history of the school. They have three Final Four appearances in their previous five tries, including two years ago.
“They (Siegel) are a very good team. They have 28 wins and took (top-ranked) Blackman to overtime last week,” commented coach Smith. Four of the Stars’ five losses this season have come to unbeaten Blackman.
Region 3-AAA Boys Championship
Siegel 12 22 17 8 — 59
Bradley Central 9 8 9 12 — 38
STARS (59) — Dominique Gooch 17, Ryan Jones 15, D. Clark 9, Burton 4, C. Clark 4, Simpson 4, Martin 3, Stewart 2, Roberts, McBee, Trice.
BEARS (38) — Taylor Bentley 12, Bryce Copeland 8, Daniel Clark 7, Matt Whitmire 6, Bradley McCurdy 3, Caleb Cain 2, Logan Cox, Baylor Terrell, Dee Crisp, Walker McGowan, Tucker Maroon.
3-point goals: Siegel 2 (Gooch, Burton); Bradley 6 (Bentley 2, Copeland 2, Clark, McCurdy).
Free throws: Siegel 11-of-15; Bradley 6-of-6.
Records: Siegel 28-5; Bradley Central 19-13.