ENGLEWOOD, Tenn. — Entering the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s Region 3-AA semifinal game at McMinn County High School, Brainerd had to be feeling pretty good about its chances.
Sophomore Marques Tipton drained a contested 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the third period, putting the Panthers ahead of McMinn Central by five. The momentum seemed to carry over into the fourth, too.
Tipton knocked down a mid-range jumper, then, moments later, capped Brainerd’s 12-3 run with a three-point play in the lane, spotting his team a nine-point lead with 6:34 remaining.
Tipton, who finished with 12 points, scored eight in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, and the Chargers didn’t appear to have an answer for him
“That’s just the way it happened,” Brainerd coach Robert High said. “We don’t try to identify any certain person, but it happened that way.”
That should have been it, right? According to High, yes.
“When you lead a game for three and a half quarters, you’re supposed to win the ball game,” High said. “All you have to do is take care of the ball.”
That simple instruction went unfulfilled, though, and with each Brainerd turnover, its lead grew slimmer.
Pretty soon, it was one-score game. Not long after that, the Panthers’ narrow lead became a narrow deficit. Following Tim Webb’s free-throw, which capped the Chargers’ 19-1 fourth-quarter run, they trailed by 10 with 1:06 left to play.
The Chargers (27-3), who faced a five-point halftime deficit, scored more points in the final quarter (28) than they’d managed through the first three (26), and ultimately rolled to a 55-47 victory over the Panthers.
“We’ve got to take care of the ball there,” High said. “It wasn’t what they did, it was what we did; the mistakes—unforced mistakes.”
Max Miller’s layup with 3:12 remaining gave McMinn Central its first lead since early in the second quarter, 43-42. He then buried a 3-pointer from the top of the arc just over a minute later to put his team in front by six,
Jerrian Besley, who buried a 3-pointer at the 58-second mark for the Panthers to make the scored 52-45, finished with a team-high 18 points, Orlando Moore added six for Brainerd, while Tyree Stubbs chipped in five.
Josh Scudder led all scorers with 19 points for McMinn Central, and Webb added 16.
The Chargers will take on Howard on Thursday evening for the Region 3-AA tournament, while Brainerd’s season was ended with the eight-point defeat.
“I was a little frustrated, but it happens,” High said. “The sun’s going to come up tomorrow.”