Clay County Downs Madison Magnet To Advance In The State Tournament

The Clay County Bulldogs advanced to the semifinal round of the Class A state tournament with a 57-55 win over the Madison Academic Magnet Mustangs on Wednesday at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro.

The Bulldogs overcame a 14-0 run by the Mustangs to earn the win in a matchup between two of the top teams in the state.

“We said simply, if you’re going to be the best team in the state you’re going to have to beat the number one team at some point,” said CCHS head coach Rob Edwards. “We just tried to break them down and guard them the best we could.”

The Bulldogs raced out to an early lead with a 7-2 game-opening run. Keaton Arms extended the advantage to 14-6 with a three-point-play. Eli Smith then made a layup with 11 seconds remaining in the quarter to give the Bulldogs a 16-9 lead at the end of the first.

The Mustangs opened the second quarter by increasing their defensive pressure, forcing two quick CCHS turnovers. The Mustangs then scored the opening 14 points of the quarter, including three triples, to take a 23-16 lead. Jeffery Spivey hit a three to stop the run, and Grant Strong scored the final seven CCHS points of the frame to enter halftime trailing 28-26.

“(The message was) we’re going to have some turnovers. We’re going to make some mistakes,” said Edwards. “We’ve just got to maintain our composure and settle down and play basketball. They responded well out of a timeout.”

Strong said his team never wavered, even during the 14-0 Mustang run.

“We had, maybe a minute in a half stretch, with a few turnovers and not good shot selection,” said Strong. “What I like about our team is we’re mellow and we feel like we’re going to get back in the game. After that stretch we got things going back straight.”

Strong opened the second half with a slam dunk on a fastbreak to tie the game. The teams then traded baskets to a 39-39 tie midway through the frame. A Mustang three pointer gave them a two-point lead with 1:50 remaining in the quarter. Strong then made a free throw to cut the deficit to 44-43 entering the final quarter.

Gunnar Silk made two free throws to give the Bulldogs a 49-47 lead. Strong then scored four straight to stretch the CCHS run to 8-0 and gain a 53-47 lead. The Mustangs cut the deficit to two with 25 seconds remaining, and had two separate shots in the final seconds to take a lead but both missed and the Bulldogs secured the two-point win.

Strong, a Mr. Basketball finalist, led the Bulldogs with 32 points and 14 rebounds.

“I told myself coming into the second half, ‘I’m going to take over this game’,” said Strong. “As the leader, I felt like I needed to do that. I started getting those shots up, going to the basket, being physical. It worked out for us.”

Smith scored seven points. Silk tallied six. Spivey and Keaton Arms each added five and John Hamilton scored two.

The Bulldogs (28-2) will take on North Greene (33-4) in the semifinal round of the tournament. Tipoff is set for 10 a.m. Friday at the Murphy Center.

“We still have a lot to do to get ready for (North Greene),” said Edwards. “They present some issues for us.”

Photos by Noah McKay: