In the spirit of Michael Jordan’s 50th Birthday, Harlan County’s Tyler Miller honored the event with his best imitation of the legend in the first half of Monday’s 52nd District Tournament opener. Fighting sickness, the sophomore forward turned in 13 points and seven rebounds in the first two quarters help to propel the Black Bears to a 66-48 victory over Harlan and into the title game.
With Harlan’s starting interior duo of Isaiah Johnson and Manny Davis quickly forced to the bench due to foul trouble, Harlan County capitalized on a dramatic size advantage in the first quarter. The Bears dominated the glass on their way to a double-digit lead. Harlan County outrebounded the Dragons 13-4 in the opening period, and 42-24 overall. Six of those first quarter rebounds came on the offensive end and resulted in 10 points.
Miller led the way with six points and four rebounds in the period, while senior forward Aaron Caldwell added four points.
“Isaiah picks up two (fouls) in about a minute and a half and Manny picks up two in about a minute and 31 seconds, and we are already shorthanded. I’m not making any excuses. It is part of the game, but it makes it more difficult,” said Harlan coach David Parks. “But, I felt like some of our kids grew up tonight and played better.”
Harlan kept pace in the second quarter. Senior Dakota Morris drained a pull-up jumper off of a turnover to pull the Dragons within three midway through the period. That was as close as the game got, as Harlan County responded with three straight baskets capped by an offensive rebound putback from sophomore forward Zach Caldwell to push the lead back to 10. The teams traded baskets from that point with the Bears taking a 35-25 advantage into the half.
“(Offensive rebounding) was one of the reason’s we had the lead at halftime — because of our offensive rebounding. I thought we were a little bit impatient and not as disciplined as we should have been in the first half, but our offensive rebounding was what saved us in the first half,” said Harlan County coach Mike Jones.
Miller had seven more points and three rebounds in the second quarter to allow Harlan County to maintain the lead.
Miller was late to the floor to open the third quarter after in the locker room due to the illness.
“He has been sick. He hasn’t practiced for two days. He is just trying to get over that,” Jones said. “(Tyler) went after it real hard. He was going to start the second half, but he got sick and had to come down here and throw up. I just hope we can get him well before Thursday night.”
With Miller limited, senior Chad Massingill carried much of the scoring load in the second half. Massingill recorded 12 of his game-high 17 points in the final two quarters to keep Harlan County comfortably in front. He also finished with eight rebounds in the contest.
“We have been trying to get him to go to the boards harder like he did last year. We want him to be more aggressive attacking, instead if just standing with the ball when he can’t get it inside to Caldwell. He did a little better job of that,” said Jones.
The Black Bears limited Harlan to three baskets and seven points in the third quarter to push the lead to 48-32. Senior Tyler Brewer recorded five points and a pair of assists in the period.
Massingill had six more points in the fourth quarter as Harlan County cruised to the win.
Harlan freshman Drew Parks had seven of his 12 points in the final period, while sophomore Isaiah Johnson added five points and six rebounds. Johnson finished with 12 points and 11 boards.
Harlan County (22-7) will face the winner of today’s Bell County/Middlesboro contest in the 52nd District Championship on Thursday.With Monday’s win, the Black Bears will advance to next week’s 13th Region Tournament at Harlan County High School.
“I wouldn’t care if we were playing at the blue courts. There is still pressure to win the first game. I was really concerned. It comes down to a mental things for us,” Jones said. I am just pleased we survived. Harlan played well, especially in the first half. They did some things we didn’t respond to really good in the second half, but I am just glad we got a win. I gave them a few examples of some big upsets in the past and we can’t let that happen to us.”
Harlan closes the season at 9-20. The Green Dragons return four of five starters from Friday’s contest next season.
“The future, in my opinion, is extremely bright here. I think we have a lot of good things ahead of us,” Parks said. “We have to get stronger — we have to play more too. These kids are so nice and such good kids. I’m not saying they need to be outlaws, but sometimes it is nice to have a mean streak in you somewhere.”
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Harlan County (66) — Tyler Brewer 12, Alex Sergent 7, Chad Massingill 17, Aaron Caldwell 8, Tyler Miller 13, Zach Caldwell 4, James Bond 5, Cody Bumgardner 0, Fred Massey 0, Trey Sanders 0.
Harlan (48) — Caleb Hogue 2, Drew Parks 12, Nathan Young 6, Manny Davis 6, Isaiah Johnson 12, Dakota Morris 2, Leighton Piper 6, Dylan McNiel 2.