A Bradley-Cleveland game with impact on the District 5-AAA race set the stage and the jam packed crowd at the 2,500-seat Walker Arena Friday night got their money’s worth.
“This was a great high school game. There were big shots and big plays. In the end we made a couple more than they did,” proclaimed Coach Jason McCowan after his Blue Raiders shot 68 percent (13-of-19) from the field, including a half dozen 3s, in the second half to hand the Bears their first district loss of the season.
In a game that saw the lead change hands or was tied 15 times, Cleveland made a final period run for a nine-point edge only to see it trimmed to three before netting the final four points of the contest for a 59-52 win.
After not having played since Jan. 12 due to illness, Raider senior Kendrick Thompson returned to the line up to not only score the 1,000-point of his career, but drained four 3-pointers while posting a game-high 22 points, 17 of which came in the second half. The 6-foot-2 guard also grabbed five rebounds and blocked a pair of shots.
“We didn’t start Kendrick and was watching how he was doing, but at the half he said he was good and then in the second half he took over,” remarked Coach McCowan.
“He’s had a great year and a whale of a career,” the Raider coach added. “This was a storybook night for him to get his 1,000 point against Bradley and in front of this packed out crowd.”
The victory means the archrivals split their regular season meetings and keeps Cleveland just a game behind the Bears in the 5-AAA standings.
The Raiders are now 11-5 overall and 6-2 in district play. With a win over East Hamilton Friday, Ooltewah (12-8) is 7-2 in 5-AAA play, but one of those losses were to the Raiders.
Now 12-8 on the season, Bradley still leads the league with an 8-1 mark.
The Bears have another big district game Tuesday evening in Ooltewah, while Cleveland will look to repay East Hamilton for its other 5-AAA loss that same night at Cleveland Middle School.
Bradley scored the first five points Friday evening but saw that lead trimmed to a single point (9-8) when Thompson hit his first bucket of the night with a driving jumper in the lane as the opening period buzzer sounded.
Although it stayed on the Bears’ heels, Cleveland didn’t take its first lead until Thompson drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to push him over the 1,000-point mark with 2:15 remaining in the half.
The teams jockied back-and-forth throughout the final couple of minutes before a pair of free throws each from senior Taylor Bentley and freshman Cole Copeland gave the Black-and-Gold a 24-21 halftime edge.
After the intermission, Thompson quickly tied the game with a lane jumper, a steal and a free throw after being fouled on the resulting fast break attempt in the first 20 seconds of the second half.
The teams swapped the lead eight times in the third period with Cantrel Ware driving the lane for a basket just before the horn sounded for a 40-39 Raider advantage.
A steal and fast break bucket by Anfernee Scott a minute into the final frame got Cleveland off on the right foot.
With the score setting at 45-44 after Copeland hit his second 3-pointer of the night with 5:30 to go, the Raiders exploded on an 8-0 run for their largest lead of the contest.
Down nine with less than three minutes to go, Bradley went on an 8-2 streak of its own to pull within a possession of the lead when Bentley drilled a trey with 97 ticks on the clock.
With time running down, the Bears were forced to foul, and had hope after Thompson made just one of two free throws at the 47.4 mark.
However, a 3 and a putback of an offensive rebound wouldn’t fall for the Bears and the Raiders found Isaiah Beaty open on the fast break to seal the victory with an old-fashioned three-point play with 19.9 on the clock.
Bradley did get off three more long-range attempts before the final horn sounded, but none found the bottom of the net.
“We wore them out on the boards (34-21) but we lost track of Kendrick (Thompson) at times. I told the guys (at the half) not to panic, but we tried to force the issue and rushed some shots when we shouldn’t have,” related Bear head coach Chuck Clark.
“We haven’t had a good week of practice and that’s on me. We haven’t had a sense of urgency and we got humbled tonight.”
“I felt like this game was key to us going undefeated in the district,” he added. “The Ooltewah game (Tuesday) is huge now. If we lose that then there’s a three-way tie for first.”
Bradley had a trio of players score in double figures with Copeland leading the way with a double-double of 13 points, 10 rebounds, six of which came off the offensive glass, plus he copped a pair of steals and dished out two assists.
Junior swingman Daniel Clark helped out with a dozen points, six caroms and a couple of helps. Bentley added 10 points, four boards and pair of thefts.
Senior Sam Gregory netted eight points and cleared four offensive rebounds.
The Bears sank 17-of-36 (47 percent) from two-point land, but was just 3-for-11 (27 percent) from “distance.”
Cleveland ripped the chords at a 72 percent (13-for-18) pace from in front of the 19-foot arc, plus drilled 9-of-24 (38 percent) from beyond it for the game.
Thompson’s effort was supported by Cantrel Ware’s dozen points and four rebounds, while Tyquan Ware sank eight points.
Beaty garnered seven points, a half dozen caroms and blocked a shot in the victory.
“We are a scrappy team that is playing well, which is what we want to do down the stretch,” proclaimed Coach McCowan, whose Raiders have won seven straight games and 10 of their last 11. “We’ve had some good wins lately and are getting our identity.”
Bradley Central 9 15 15 13 — 52
Cleveland 8 13 19 19 — 59
BEARS (52) — Daniel Clark 12, Cole Copeland 13, Taylor Bentley 10, Sam Gregory 8, Dee Crisp 6, Bradley McCurdy 3, Ty Morgan.
BLUE RAIDERS (59) — Kendrick Thompson 22, Cantrel Ware 12, Tyquan Ware 8, Isaiah Beaty 7, Anfernee Scott 5, Jake Gibson 3, Rod Dennard 2, Colby Tatum, Mason Brown, Jonathan Vicchio, James McKee.
3-POINTERS: Bradley 3 (Copeland 2, Bentley); Cleveland 9 (Thompson 4, C.Ware 2, Scott, T.Ware, Gibson).
FREE THROWS: Bradley 9-of-15; Cleveland 6-of-10.
RECORDS: Bradley 12-8, 8-1 District 5-AAA; Cleveland 11-5, 6-2 District 5-AAA.