LEXINGTON — During their 31-win season that included the first 13th Region Tournament title in school history, the Harlan County Black Bears showed the ability to come from behind numerous times.
The Bears learned Wednesday in the first round of the Sweet Sixteen at Rupp Arena that digging out of a 19-point hole against a team with a player as good as Scott senior guard Jake Ohmer was just too much ask.
Ohmer poured in 41 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, answering several second-half Harlan County runs with timely baskets as the 10th Region champions held off Harlan County 77-65.
“I guess I’m kind of numb to it. I’ve been watching Jake have 40-point games since he was in the fourth grade,” said Scott coach Steve Frommeyer.
“It feels good,” said Ohmer, “but I’m more happy with how the team played well together and that we got the win.”
Harlan County (31-4) hit only three of 13 shots in the second quarter as Scott outscored the Bears 18-7 and led by as many as 19 points late in the first half.
“I can’t pinpoint why we chose to shoot as bad as we have all year down here,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “I’m proud of our effort and the way we battled back. If we could have made shots in the first half it could have been a different game.”
Senior guard Cameron Carmical overcame a slow start to lead the Bears with 25 points. Junior forward Tyrese Simmons hit all seven of his shots from the field and finished with 14 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Sophomore guard Gabe Price helped spark the Bears in the second half as he finished with 12 points.
The Bears cut a 17-halftime deficit to nine in the third quarter before Scott built it back to 12 by the end of the period. Carmical hit a couple of big shots in the run, including a four-point play.
“I want to do whatever I can to put our team in position to win,” Carmical said. “I thought I did hit a couple that might have sparked a run, but we just couldn’t get over the hump, and that’s the bottom line.”
Price hit a 3-pointer from the corner, then added a basket in the paint as the Bears cut the deficit to 63-55 with 4:40 left. Harlan County had a chance to get even closer when sophomore Alex Pace grabbed a rebound and scored and appeared to draw a foul, but the official called a jump ball, giving possession back to Scott and taking some momentum from the Bears.
“I thought if that call went our way there and we could have cut it to five, I could have called a timeout and gave our kids a little break and maybe put some pressure on them, but the call was made the way it was and you have to live with it and go on and play,” said Jones.
Andrew Creech and Carmical each hit two free throws as the Bears got as close as eight again, this time at 69-61, with 1:54 to play. Scott (22-12) put the game away at the line, hitting five of six free throws over the next minute.
Harlan County had some success forcing turnovers after picking up the pressure on defense in the second half.
“We talked at halftime that we had to pick up full court man-to-man and take some chances,” Jones said. “That led to some easier shots on the offensive end. I don’t think we defended awful. Ohmer got 41 points, but we didn’t let the others hurt us. I know people will look at that and say we didn’t play good defense, but we just didn’t execute on offense. We didn’t put the ball in the hole enough.”
Harlan County shot only 33 percent (nine of 27) from the field in the first half.
A Simmons basket off a pass from Carmical accounted for the only Harlan County points in the opening four minutes as Scott built an 11-2 lead with Ohmer scoring off a drive and hitting a 3-pointer.
Carmical scored inside, then found Simmons for a basket as the Bears’ offense showed some signs of life. Two more baskets by Carmical cut the deficit to 15-10.
Vincent Dumlao provided a spark off the Scott bench with a pair of 3-pointers, the second of which stretched the Eagles’ lead to 18-10 before Simmons closed the period with a basket to make it a six-point game.
“Vinny is an incredible shooter and scorer,” Frommeyer said. “That was huge for our team. It’s not just Jake Ohmer and the Four Misfits. We have some good pieces around him.”
The Bears’ offensive woes continued in the second quarter as they hit only three of 13 shots from the field and missed their first five free throws.
Scott’s lead reached 18, at 34-16, on another Ohmer 3-pointer. Andrew Creech broke the string of misses at the line, hitting one of two with 1:09 left, then Simmons scored inside to cut the deficit to 36-19 at halftime after Scott’s lead went to 19.
“If we could have come out and played with the same intensity we had in the second half during the first half it could have been a different story, but that’s not taking anything away from Scott. They played really well and have a good ballclub,” Jones said.
The game marked the end of the high school careers of Carmical, Treyce Spurlock and David Turner, who helped lead the Bears to three straight 52nd District titles and the first regional title in the county since Cumberland in 2003.
“We’re disappointed we lost the game, but first and foremost on my mind is what these three have meant to our team and our community,” Jones said. “If you’re going to lose, you want to lose in the state tournament. I’m proud of this team and what they’ve done. What these three have done for Harlan County basketball is indescribable.”
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134