BRISTOL, Tenn. – Sullivan East senior basketball player Ethan Bradford embraces challenges.
On Tuesday, the 6-1 guard was motivated to gain redemption from a regular season loss at Elizabethton.
“That was a rough game so we wanted to leave everything on the floor tonight and play for each other,” Bradford said.
By the end of the night, Bradford and his buddies were cutting down the nets at the Dyer Dome after East rolled a 55-39 win over the Cyclones in the District 1-AA boys title game.
That 81-68 loss at Elizabethton on Jan. 16 prevented East from posting a perfect record in the Three Rivers Conference.
“(Elizabethton) came out and punched us in the mouth and I still haven’t forgotten that. Nobody likes that feeling,” first-year East coach Dillon Faver said.
Boosted by their rowdy fans, East (19-6) took a 25-4 lead with 6:30 left in the first half Tuesday when 6-foot-2 junior guard Dylan Bartley hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Faver’s pregame speech focused on three basics.
“I told my guys that it was going to come down to making plays on defense, rebounding and hitting our shots. I thought we did all three things extremely well,” Faver said.
The Patriots connected on 11 3 pointers, outrebounded the Cyclones and held Elizabethton’s top-scorer Jake Roberts to 12 points.
Bradford paced the East offense with 17 points, while Bartley added 12. Bartley also drew the assignment of guarding the sharp-shooting Roberts, who scored 23 against East at Elizabethton.
“I told Dylan that he can guard anybody in the conference and that he was going to shut down Jake tonight. And that’s what he did,” Bradford said.
The Cyclones were able to close within 43-33 with 40 seconds left in the third quarter. That’s when Bradford answered eight straight points.
“Ethan is that kind of player,” Faver said. He loves competition.”
Elizabethton (17-7) was coming off a wild double-overtime victory over Sullivan South in the semifinals behind a 26-point effort from Roberts. The Cyclones never had time for find a comfort zone Tuesday.
“(East) came out hitting shots like they normally do in this building,” Elizabethton coach Lucas Honeycutt said. “They’ve got great shooters all over the floor, and once they get rolling they get more confidence.”
Like other coaches around Northeast Tennessee, Honeycutt found it hard to match up with the offensive arsenal of East. Eight different players scored for the Patriots.
“Bartley does his thing but Bradford is pretty dang good, too,” Honeycutt said. “I guess you could call (Bradford) a “Robin” to Bartley’s “Batman.” And they’ve got other kids who can hurt you in different ways. (East) came out tonight and showed that they were the better team.”
Sullivan East will host a Region 1-AA tournament game on Saturday night and can play at home until the state tournament. Tuesday’s contest at the Dyer Dome featured one of the largest in crowds in Northeast Tennessee all season.
“Hearing the roar of fans motivated us to keep pushing,” said Bradford, who recently made a commitment to play basketball at Tusculum. “We all want to show our best in the big games.”
Bradford said he’s motivated for more challenges.
“We’ve put in a lot of work and we’re on a mission,” Bradford said.
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