If March finds the Harlan Green Dragons in the 13th Region Tournament for the first time since 2005, it will likely be because of their prowess from beyond the 3-point line.
A team already severely lacking in size, Harlan got another dose of bad news Tuesday with the loss of sophomore guard Paul Stapleton to a torn ACL. But the Dragons responded by serving notice that they shouldn’t be counted out of the 52nd District race just yet. Harlan led visiting Bell County for most of the first three quarters before the Bobcats pulled ahead late for a 62-56 victory.
“We didn’t play very well in the last quarter,” Harlan coach David Parks said. “But we’re down two starters right now. They’re giving us everything they’ve got, and that’s all you can ask for. I get aggravated, but I know they’re doing the best they can do.”
Harlan (4-4 overall, 1-1 district) used an outstanding performance by Killian Ledford to take control in the first half. The freshman guard knocked down all five of his 3-pointers in the half to lead the Dragons to 28-21 lead. Harlan shot a blazing 77 percent (10-for-13) in the half.
“We’re capable of shooting the ball well – Killian’s a good shooter, Drew (Parks) is a good shooter, Robbie (Curry) is a really good shooter,” Parks said. “Why we haven’t been shooting well until tonight, I don’t know. But we shot the ball really well, and we can stay in games as long as we’re doing that. We have to make shots, and we did tonight.”
Bell County (3-2, 1-0) put the clamps on Ledford in the third quarter and exploited its notable size advantage as senior forward Zach Partin scored two baskets in a 6-2 run that pulled the Bobcats within three. But Harlan answered with a basket inside by Trent McKenzie and a putback by Noah Busroe, then got 3-pointers by Parks and Curry to fuel a 10-3 run that gave Harlan its largest lead of the game, 41-30.
The Bobcats closed the third quarter with a 10-3 spurt of their own that included another Partin basket and a putback by Peyton Collett to cut the deficit to four.
Junior guard Victor Morris, who had misfired on his first four 3-point attempts of the game, finally connected from the corner with 4:15 left in the final period to pull the Bobcats within one. He hit a second from the same spot 34 seconds later to put Bell ahead for the first time since the 3:43 mark in the first quarter. Morris scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.
“He was the determining factor, I thought,” Parks said. “He hit some big 3s. He’s turned into a nice player; he’s worked hard and put the time in, and he’s starting to reap the benefits.”
The Bobcats struggled from the free-throw line, hitting just 11 of 22, but made seven of 10 in the final 1:33 to hold onto the lead.
The Dragons struggled against Bell County’s press, turning the ball over 20 times.
“Noah is our point guard, but we’re having to play him in different spots. Sometimes we don’t get him where he needs to be,” Parks said. “We had to have him in the middle to break the press, so he has to throw it in, get in the middle, catch it and make something happen.”
Ledford paced Harlan’s effort with 18 points. McKenzie, a junior forward, contributed 10 points.
Bell was led by Morris’ 18 points. Partin scored 17 and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
The Dragons return to action Thursday with another girls-boys district doubleheader at Harlan County.
“We have a long way to go,” Parks said. “We now know we can play with (Bell). I don’t know how they compare with Harlan County, but we know there are at least two other teams we can play with in this district. The key for us is continuing to work and trying to develop these young kids.”
Bell County will travel to Jackson County on Thursday.