Thirty-six minutes was barely enough.
It took every second of overtime and another last-second effort by Taylor Bentley to give the Bears a 58-56 win over the Mustangs and keep Bradley perfect in District 5-AAA basketball.
It was Bentley’s basket with four seconds left that gave the Bears a 54-52 win in the first game (Dec. 4) of the season between the teams.
Friday night’s heroic effort by the Bradley senior came as the ball rolled over the iron into the nylon with zeros on the clock and the buzzer signaling a win.
“We work on that play about once every other week,” Bear coach Chuck Clark said of the winning call. “We’ll go through it and run it four, five or six times to make sure we know what we’re looking for. If one option is not there, we look for two or three. Tonight it worked out.
“I’m glad and happy for the kids, but I’m also upset and a little angry. We missed way, way too many free throws down the stretch and over the course of the night. Our defense was not very good. Our help side was atrocious. We won the game; I’m very happy about that.”
Coaching his 300th game in 10 seasons at Walker Valley, Bob Williams said his boys played to the end and did everything they could to win.
“Both teams fought hard and played hard.” he said. “You’ve got to give Bradley credit. That was good play at the end. Bentley is a good player and gets to the goal. It seemed like eight seconds (left in the game) not three. That was the longest 3.3 seconds or whatever. It was long.”
The battle inside Jim Smiddy Arena had been epic from the opening tip.
The host Bears (11-7, 7-0 District 5-AAA) and Mustangs (11-8, 3-4) deployed full-court presses and battled toe-to-toe for points. Neither team took more than a one-point lead until Bentley put Bradley up 10-7 with a 3-pointer from the right corner with two minutes to go in the first quarter.
Walker Valley countered with a five-point run to move out front 12-10 before settling for a 12-12 tie at the end of the period after Bear sophomore Bradley McCurdy beat the buzzer on a put back of his own missed shot.
Same song, second verse in the second.
The Bears and Mustangs continued to slug it out headed toward the halftime break. Senior Brandon Crews hit the first Walker Valley 3 of the night from the left corner to put the Mustangs out front by one midway through the quarter.
Walker Valley held another three-point lead with 2:36 left before junior Daniel Clark and McCurdy put the Bears up 23-21 from the free-throw line.
Freshman Cole Copeland made it a 25-22 Bradley lead with just over a minute left. Senior Austin Harwood cut it to a one-point advantage, and freshman Bryce Nunnelly sent the Mustangs to the locker room at the break with a 27-25 lead after a basket followed by a free throw closed out first half scoring.
Bradley’s points came predominantly from the free-throw line in the third. The Bears dropped in 6-of-7 from the line while Bentley, Copeland and McCurdy put in points from the floor.
On the night, Bradley made good on 69 percent from the line hitting 25-of-36 tries. Coach Williams would later say Walker Valley’s failure from the line (5-of-15) was a difference maker.
Crews got the scoring started for the Mustangs in the third with his second 3 of the night coming from the right wing two minutes into the second half.
The next field goal for the Mustangs came from Jacob Heard at the 3:30 mark, pulling Walker Valley within three after Copeland gave the Bears a 35-30 lead with a three-point play. Bentley put Bradley back up by five with just over three minutes left before the Mustangs rallied back with six straight points to take a 38-37 lead headed into the fourth.
Crews hit his third 3 of the night to put the Mustangs out front 41-37 to open the quarter. The goal was one of two for Crews from the floor for the Mustangs who hit only three from the floor in the pre-overtime period.
The Bears got two from the hardwood with Logan Cox and Ty Morgan scoring. Bentley, Morgan and Copeland kept the Bears just out front of the Mustangs with five points from the line.
Herd cut the Bradley lead to 46-45 with two points from underneath with 2:03 left. A minute later, Harwood stepped to the line and hit the back end of a two-shot foul to tie the game.
With the score knotted at 46-46, the Bears had a shot at getting the win in regulation. Playing for a final shot, a Bears miscue turned the ball over to the Mustangs with 25.8 left on the clock who called time out to plot strategy with 10 seconds left but could not pull off the plan.
After scoring on a fast break off the overtime tip off, Cox put the Bears up 52-48 from the free-throw line with 2:52 left before Crews cut it to a one-point game with another 3.
Three more points from the line made it 55-51 before a Harwood 3-pointer pulled the Mustangs within a single point one more time with 16 seconds to play. Harwood followed a final Bear free throw splitting the Bradley defense with a driving layup to tie the game 56-56 with five second left.
The Bears threw the ball inbounds to Clark at mid-court. A quick turnaround pass found an open Bentley who drove the final distance through tight defense as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Putting up the one-handed shot, Bentley fell backward to the floor and watched as the ball rolled though the hoop to the sound of the buzzer signaling a Bear victory.
“Free throw, 5-of-15,” said an exhausted Williams in a quiet Mustang dressing room. “They made their free throws. We didn’t make ours. We make ours, and we’re probably not in that situation, maybe.”
“I just hate it for our guys because they wanted it so bad. They played so hard. I told them through adversity you see what you are made of. We’ve got to bounce back. We’ve got Ooltewah at our place Tuesday, and hopefully, we’ll be hungry.”
For the game, Bradley hit 15-of-28 shots (53 percent) from inside the 3-point line but were only 1-for-7 (14 percent) from outside. Walker Valley hit 18-of-35 (51 percent) from two-point distance and 5-of-15 (33 percent) from behind the arc.
Clark said afterward the Bears’ tradition of winning played a large role in the outcome.
“I think we’ve got that tradition, we’re used to winning and we know how to win close games,” Clark said was the difference in the game. “These guys have to understand what they have inside of them built in. I think they drew off of that. I think it’s something that’s built in. When you put that jersey on that it’s almost instilled inside of you that you are going to perform, and when it gets tight, they know what to do.
“It [the win] puts us another step closer to winning the district. And it puts another step forward knowing we can win in close games. We’ve had a bunch of close games this year. We’ve lost a couple that were close, but we’ve won more than we’ve lost when it’s been crunch time. I think that gives them a bit more confidence to take that next step.”
Bentley led the victory with 16 points, including 7-of-10 from the charity stripe.
Copeland hit all nine of his free throws on his way to 13 points, plus he cleared four rebounds and blocked a shot.
McCurdy finished with 10 points, three assists and a trio of caroms.
Harwood lead all scorers with 20 points, snagged a trio of rebounds and dished out a couple of helps.
Crews collected 18 markers for the Mustangs, while 6-foot-6 senior Lukas Korn netted nine points and cleared nine rebounds.
Mustangs 47, Bears 27
The Walker Valley JV boys used a 22-point third period to break open a close game, securing the victory by doubling the Bradley output for that eight-minute span.
Bryce Nunnelly led the Mustangs with four 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 19 points, plus he went 3-for-3 at the free throw line.
Jim Williams added eight points, all in the final frame, while Cooper Melton netted seven for the victors.
Ty Beavers topped the home team effort with 13 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Jamie Billups and Tyrell Pitner added a half dozen points apiece.
Walker Valley 12 15 11 8 10 — 56
Bradley Central 12 13 12 9 12 — 58
MUSTANGS (56) — Austin Harwood 20, Brandon Crews 18, Lukas Korn 9, Jacob Herd 4, Bryce Nunnelly 3, Dustin Swafford 2, Logan Melton, Josh Jones, Logan Russell, Colton Morrow.
BEARS (58) — Taylor Bentley 16, Cole Copeland 13, Bradley McCurdy 10, Daniel Clark 7, Logan Cox 6, Ty Morgan 4, Dee Crisp 2, Tucker Maroon, Sam Gregory.
3-POINTERS: WV 5 (Crews 4, Harwood); Bradley 1 (Bentley).
FREE THROWS: WV 5-of-15; Bradley 25-of-35.
RECORDS: Walker Valley 11-8, 3-4 District 5-AAA; Bradley 11-7, 7-0 District 5-AAA.