The Harlan County Black Bears weren’t about to let a little thing like struggling to score keep them from staying undefeated Tuesday.
The Black Bears used a strong defensive effort and a few clutch baskets to overcome a poor shooting night overall as they held off visiting Knox Central 54-51 to improve to 3-0 on the season.
Harlan County shot 29 percent (16-for-55) but hassled the Panthers into 18 turnovers.
“For the most part, I was proud of our defense. We had some bad rotations, some things we just worked on just for Knox Central and had some mental lapses,” Harlan County coach Mike Jones said. “But anytime you can hold Knox Central to 51 points, you’ve done something pretty good. We’ve just got to correct our offense.”
Treyce Spurlock epitomized the Bears’ offensive night. The junior guard missed his first eight shots of the game and was 0-for-9 from beyond the arc before nailing a critical 3-pointer to put Harlan County ahead for good with 58 seconds remaining.
“It’s not just Spurlock — our whole offense struggled,” Jones said. “I’ll take responsibility for that. We just weren’t knocking down shots. But they hung in there, and Treyce hit a huge shot in the corner. We’re still winning games and not playing well, so that’s a good sign.”
With his team playing its first game of the season, Knox Central coach Tony Patterson’s substitution rotation appears to be a work in progress, as evidenced by Jermel Carton’s impact after entering the game in the third quarter. The athletic sophomore guard contributed 12 points along with several steals and deflections.
“I thought he would play well. We played them this summer and he played well,” Jones said. “It’s their first game, and I’m sure coach Patterson is trying to figure some rotations out. He’ll definitely get a lot more playing time next game. He was a matchup problem for us.”
Carton’s first points, a three-point play, gave the Panthers a 34-33 lead, their first since midway through the second period. He added a steal and layup at the 1:39 mark to put Knox ahead by three. Harlan County forward Tyrese Simmons hit two of four free throws in the final 1:18 to pull the Bears within one heading into the fourth quarter.
The Panthers led 43-39 after Carton’s basket with 5:51 remaining, but Harlan County rallied to tie the score three times, including twice with clutch baskets by junior forward David Turner, who scored seven of his 11 points in the quarter.
“I was trying to get them to throw the ball to him, but he didn’t get discouraged. He got some huge offensive rebounds and some putbacks. David’s a big key for us,” Jones said.
Spurlock drove the baseline for a layup to tie the score at 47-47 with 2:43 left to play. Carton hit one of two from the line at the 1:31 mark to give the Panthers their final lead before Drew Nolan found Spurlock in the corner for his clutch trey.
Nolan drained a pair of free throws with 27.1 seconds left, and the Panthers called timeout after Spurlock missed two from the line. Wade Liford nailed a 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining to cut the Bears’ lead to one.
Cameron Carmical drew the quick foul and hit both free throws, and Liford’s half-court shot at the buzzer hit the front of the rim.
Liford, a junior forward, and senior center Chad Marsee led Knox Central (0-1) with 14 points apiece. Liford also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
Harlan County was led by Spurlock with 16 points. Simmons pulled down nine rebounds. Nolan added 10 points and dished out four assists.
The Bears came out ice-cold in the first quarter, hitting just three of 20 shots. Nolan hit two 3-pointers in the quarter, but Liford and Marsee powered a 9-3 run to close the quarter and give the Panthers a 17-9 lead.
Harlan County chipped away as Spurlock found his groove in the second quarter, scoring six points in the first three minutes as the Panthers went cold. Carmical’s 3-pointer at the 4:52 mark pulled the Bears within one. Harlan County took the lead on Nolan’s free throws a minute later, and Simmons added a pair from the line with 2:16 remaining.
The Bears went to a slowdown offense in the final 90 seconds of the half, and Carmical drew a foul driving to the basket with three seconds left. He hit one of two to give the Bears a 25-21 halftime edge.
Harlan County returns to action Friday in the second game of a girls-boys district doubleheader at home against Middlesboro. The Panthers will play host to Boyle County on Friday.
Knox Central rallied in the fourth quarter to win the junior varsity game 45-41.
Jaylen Adams paced the Panthers with 12 points, and Xavier Gregory added 11. Nick Martin contributed nine.
Harlan County was led by Austin Adams with nine points and Christian Hall with eight. Alex Pace scored seven, A.J. Simmons contributed six and Michael Simpson scored five. Rounding out the scoring were Joey Swanner with four and Gabe Price with two.