By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
GREERS FERRY – The West Side Eagles didn’t play one of their best games, but finished with a strong push and defeated the Bradley Bears 78-68 in the first round of the Class 1A state basketball tournament at Brady-Hipp Arena.
Bradley trailed after the first quarter before it rallied for a halftime lead before West Side pulled ahead by two points going into the fourth quarter.
“When you get to the state tournament, a team usually will have that one game when you didn’t play your best,” West Side coach Keith Brown said. “A team just has to find a way to win. We didn’t play our best game, but we won the game. We have a veteran team and showed maturity during the fourth quarter.”
Jonathan Easter led Bradley with 20 points. Jacardo Cornell had 17 points, while Jaylan Hardamon added 12 points. Colbie west scored 10 points.
Brown said a defensive adjustment during the halftime break led to a successful second half.
“We played excellent defense, especially during the fourth quarter,” he said. “We gave up 44 points during the first half. We made the adjustments and held them to 24 points during the second half. That gave us a spark. No. 2 (Easter) is a great player, and we had to put two guys on him.”
Travis Gentry, who made four 3-pointers, paced the Eagles with a game-high 32 points. Malachi Miller scored 23 points and Ashton Klepko had 12 points.
“It was not just one player, but a team effort,” Brown said. “Klepko made a big three during the first quarter and, Travis hit big shots throughout the game. The team showed its maturity. Our experience was the key to the comeback. We have five players who are starting for the third year.”
Cornell led the charge for Bradley during the first quarter. West Side countered with Gentry, who made three 3-pointers during the quarter, and Klepko connected from behind the circle.
The Eagles scored the final six points of the quarter as Klepko, Miller and Bittle scored field goals. West Side led 24-18 going into the second quarter.
Easter carried the hot hand by scoring 10 points as Bradley rallied for a three-point lead during the second quarter. Cornell hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds, giving Bradley a 44-38 halftime lead.
Bradley maintained an eight-point lead during most of the third quarter. West Side fell behind by nine points before the Eagles claimed the lead on a 10-0 scoring run.
Easter made 1-of-2 free throws and tied the game at 54-54. Miller scored on an offensive rebound right before the buzzer as West Side led 56-54 going into the fourth quarter.
West Side put the game away with a 13-2 scoring run and increased the lead to 69-56 midway through the fourth quarter.
The Eagles (26-6) will play The New School (Fayetteville) at 7 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals.
“New School is a good team,” Brown said. “We must come out and play better than against Bradley.”
Bradley 18 26 10 14–68
West Side 24 14 18 22–78
Bradley scorers — Jonathan Easter 20, Jacardo Cornell 17, Jaylan Hardamon 12, Colbie West 10, De’ontae Woods 9.
West Side scorers — Travis Gentry 32, Malachi Miller 23, Ashton Klepko 12, Nate Bittle 4, Zack Birmingham 4, Jake Ballard 3.