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Pressure Defense Ignites Tatum’s 58-41 State Semifinal Defeat of Bushland

Tatum’s Robbie Rockwell lays the ball in against the defense of Bushland’s Taylor Cornelius in a Class 2A state semifinal Friday in Austin. The Eagles won 58-41 to advance to Saturday’s state championship game against Ponder. (Travis Harsch, ETSN.fm)

AUSTIN — Bushland senior guard Taylor Cornelius said it best.

“I think the pressure is what got to us the most,” he said following Tatum’s 58-41 win Thursday morning in a Class 2A semifinal at the Frank Erwin Center. “There’s no way you can really simulate that kind of pressure in practice when you’re not used to it. We hadn’t seen that since December.”

The second-ranked Eagles (35-4) put on the full-court press all game long, using it to create easy baskets in transition and run away from Bushland (27-9) and into Saturday afternoon’s state championship game. Tatum will meet No. 4 Ponder at 1:30 p.m.

Tatum forced Bushland into 14 turnovers, including nine steals, which led to 20 points the other way where Tatum held a 14-2 advantage in fastbreak points.

Tatum’s Chaston Brooks tries to find space against the defense of Bushland’s Tate Smalligan in a Class 2A state semifinal Friday morning in Austin. Brooks led the Eagles to a 58-41 win with 15 points. (Travis Harsch, ETSN.fm)

“They were so big that we pretty much determined that we better guard them 94 feet, and we challenged our kids to do that,” said Tatum coach Brett Carr, who hopes to lead the Eagles to their first state title game win in three chances. “It’s really nothing new; it’s what we do every day in practice. People ask me all the time how I get my kids to play that hard for 94 feet. If you do it every day from the start of practice to the end, you get where you’re pretty good at it.”

Tatum had 12 players see action throughout the course of the game, including eight that logged at least 13 minutes, which helped wear down a much bigger Bushland team.

That was never more evident than in the second quarter when Tatum broke open a four-point game and led by as many as 19 points in the opening half.

“I thought (Bushland) looked a little fatigued,” Carr said. “When you haven’t played that style, it’s not easy. One thing we always tell our kids … our young kids always battle the older kids at practice. There’s not a lot of people in the state of Texas that play like this, so if you’re able to play like this against these guys in practice, you’re going to be able to play like this in the state tournament. Honestly, they looked a little fatigued to me in the second quarter.”

Tatum’s Klifton Wills drives the baseline in a Class 2A state semifinal Friday morning in Austin. Willis had nine points off the bench in a 58-41 Eagle win. (Travis Harsch, ETSN.fm)

Junior guard Chaston Brooks led Tatum with 15 points, which went along with three rebounds, three assists and two steals. Martin Williams has 12 points off the bench, which included a pair of 3-pointers, Robbie Rockwell added 10 points, six boards and four assists and super reserve Klifton Willis chipped in with nine points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals.

“I thought our kids were very patient,” Carr said. “We got some easy baskets on them because we made the zone rotate, kids would get wide-open looks and it seemed like we kept hitting them.”

Tatum was 22-of-53 from the field (41.5 percent). Bushland, when it was able to cross the timeline under heavy pressure, managed to shoot just 28.6 percent and was 0 for its first 10 from beyond the 3-point line.

Bushland, which featured the 6-6 Cornelius and 6-8 forward Josh Richardson, was never able to take advantage of its size. Tatum was plus-9 in rebounding, and scored 18 second-chance points on 18 offensive rebounds.

“I think we were a little tentative; we didn’t really attack the glass like we had talked about,” said Bushland coach Steve Rhodes, who led the Falcons to the first state tournament in school history. “They were very aggressive and were in attack mode pretty much from the opening tip.”

Tatum took a 16-12 lead into the second quarter before completing taking over. The Eagles’ 11-2 run at the beginning of the period was ignited by three forced turnovers as Tatum built a 27-14 lead with 5:14 remaining in the half. More defensive pressure led to an 8-2 run later in the quarter that opened up a 35-16 Tatum advantage.

Tatum’s Casey Carr passes around the defense of Bushland’s Teagan Shelton in a Class 2A state semifinal Friday in Austin. The Eagles won 58-41 to advance to Saturday’s state title game. (Travis Harsch, ETSN.fm)

“It’s what we worried about all week,” Rhodes said of Tatum’s defensive pressure. “They’re relentless and they just kept coming at us, and we knew we were going to have to be strong with the basketball. One of the things we talked about was no live-ball turnovers, and that kinda bit us in the butt today a little bit. They had a lot to do with that.”

Cornelius led Bushland with 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Teagan Shelton added 11 points, while Bayler Andrews was a perfect 4-of-4 from the field to finish with eight points.

Tatum’s defense took Bushland out of what it likes to do offensively, forcing a barrage of shots from the perimeter. The Falcons missed their first 10 attempts from long range and finished 2-of-15 on 3′s.

“We had good looks, but we had to work real hard to get the ball up and our legs weren’t quite what they normally would be,” Rhodes said. “But we haven’t shot the ball well from the arc all year long; we’re pretty much an inside-the-paint team.”

Tatum has previously played in two state championship games — losing to Everman 72-44 in the 2003 3A final and dropping a 55-54 decision to Idalou in the 2011 2A title game.

“From our standpoint, we challenge our kids every day to play defense,” Carr said. “I guess that’s cliche, to say defense wins championships, but when you get down here and in that grind of the playoffs where you’re playing so many games in such a short period of time, that’s what it always comes down to. That’ll be what it comes down tomorrow … if we get stops.”

Tatum players huddle before the start of their Class 2A semifinal against Bushland on Friday morning in Austin. The Eagles used a big second quarter to pull away for a 58-41 win. (Travis Harsch, ETSN.fm)

No. 2 Tatum 58, No. 11 Bushland 41

Boys Class 2A State Semifinal

At Frank Erwin Center, Austin

Bushland              12    8   11   10   —   41
Tatum                  16   19   14    9   —   58
BUSHLAND (27-9) — Taylor Cornelius, 11; Teagan Shelton, 11; Bayler Andrews, 8; Collin Smith, 5; Tate Smalligan, 4; Josh Richardson, 2.
TATUM (35-4) — Chaston Brooks, 15; Martin Williams, 12; Robbie Rockwell, 10; Klifton Willis, 9; Donovan Centers, 5; Jahee Johnson, 4; Kyshaun Smith, 2; Jakoby Lee, 1.
THREE-POINT GOALSBushland: Shelton, Smith. Tatum: Rockwell (2), Williams (2), Centers, Willis.

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