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If ‘cylinders click, 5th gear found,’ Dawgs have ‘legit shot’ at state

Mark Blevins freely admits his Bearden Bulldogs don’t have “great depth, great size or great strength” compared to the eight-team field in this year’s Class AAA TSSAA Boys Basketball State Tournament.

However, “If all our cylinders are clicking and we’re in fifth gear, we have a legitimate shot” to win the program’s first-ever basketball state title, the BHS head coach added. “We’ve got experience and heart.”

Top-ranked in Class AAA for a majority of the season, the Bulldogs (33-2) make the program’s third consecutive state trip and open against Region 3-AAA champ McMinn County (24-10).

Opening tip-off is 5 p.m. CDT (6 p.m. EDT) today, Thursday, March 17, at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.

Winner plays the Siegel (33-2) versus West Creek (28-6) survivor starting at 6:45 CDT (7:45 EDT) Friday, March 18.

State title game — with Bearden hoping to play White Station (29-6), Clarksville (25-8), Craigmont (30-5) or local rival West (27-5) — tips off at 6 p.m. CDT ( 7 p.m. EDT) Saturday, March 19.

Blevins said he was taken aback by his team’s “soft defense” in a 60-47 sectional victory against Morristown West, prompting the need for Bearden’s first “genuine, tough man[to-man] practice since January.”

Such hard-nosed practices had been avoided “because you’re playing seven kids and getting ready for the playoffs, you want to make sure everybody's healthy.”

However, “Our defense was way too soft” against East, leading to tough, full “man-to-man” practices March 9, 10 and 13, “and a half day Friday [March 11],” Blevins added.

As a result, “I think we got our toughness back, but now we’re banged up because we really went after each other.”

Assessing McMinn’s strengths, Blevins said Cherokees point guard Donte Arnwine “is a good penetrator, very aggressive, good defensive player.”

“Probably their best scorer is their two-guard, Brian Sherrill,” he added. “Both their posts look to be in the 6-[foot]-3 range. ... They play more of a control-style game.”

Playing a combination of defenses, McMinn “plays really hard defensively,” Blevins said.

Individually for his Bulldogs, “Ty [Greene] has really come on,” Blevins said about his star senior wing and University of South Carolina Upstate signee.

Though saying Greene “has had a tough year shooting the ball” in the regular season, Blevins added that his senior “has been on ... back to All-state form” in the playoffs.

Siegel, a regular summer ball opponent of Bearden’s, “has great size,” Blevins said. “They’re 6-[foot]-9, 6-11 every year, it’s in the water there. All their inside kids are really good ... and they have a tremendous amount of depth.

“West Creek may be the best defensive team there,” Blevins said. “They score most of their points out of their defense and transition game.

“White Station, team-wise, probably is the most talented team,” Blevins said. “They’ve got three 6-[foot]-7 kids, one has signed with Lipscomb, one’s going to Southern Illinois, and probably their best player, Black, is a 6-[foot]-7 younger guy.

“Their two guard [Andre Hollins] is going to Minnesota.”

Clarksville is a small but “a very quick, defensive team; shoots the ball well,” Blevins added.

“West has enough talent to do a lot of damage.” Craigmont is led by sophomore point Sam Craft.


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