HAZARD — Playing from behind late in a game is a dangerous proposition against just about any opponent.
Against the Harlan Lady Dragons, it’s a death wish.
Harlan hit 17 of 17 shots at the free throw line in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 63-49 win over 15th Region contender Magoffin County on Sunday in the first round of the Lady Bulldogs Holiday Classic at Memorial Gym.
Junior guard Jordan Brock hit all 14 of her free throw attempts in a 29-point performance to lead the 9-1 Lady Dragons. Senior guard Brooklyn Massingill added 16 points. Sophomore forward Mackenzie King contributed 10 points.
“We have a lot of confidence that our guards can handle the ball and hit free throws in those situations,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “Jordan, Brooklyn and Kenzie (King) stepped up and hit free throws late in the game.”
Senior guards Jazzy Howard and Leslie Howard led Magoffin (4-4), ranked second in the Cats Pause 15th Region preseason poll, with 17 and 10 points, respectively.
The Lady Dragons struggled through much of the first half and trailed 16-11 after one quarter and 27-18 with 3:20 left in the first half before Brock reeled off eight straight points, with a jumper sandwiched between two 3-pointers, to cut the deficit to two at halftime.
Harlan shot only 32 percent (eight of 25) from the field in the first half and was outrebounded 18-11.
“I thought we were pretty lethargic the first half. I guess the layoff hurt us,” Akal said. “I thought it showed on defense. We gave up a lot of layups and offensive rebounds.”
Harlan was much better on defense in the second half and started to take over on the boards, outebounding the Lady Hornets 12-4 in the third quarter while limiting them to only two-of-eight shooting in building a 42-35 lead. Magoffin struggled to get off a shot against the Harlan defense.
“We did a good job of cutting off their penetration in the second half and limited their second shots,” Akal said.
Magoffin was held without a basket for over three minutes to start the fourth quarter as Harlan built its lead to 13 points on two free throws each by Brock and Emma Bianchi and a basket by Brock
Jazzy Howard, the 15th Region’s top player, got Magoffin as close as seven points in the fourth quarter as she hit three straight shots, but Harlan answered each time, usually with free throws. Massingill and Brock each hit four free throws in the final 1:47.
Harlan advances to meet defending 14th Region champ Letcher Central in the tourney quarterfinals on Monday at 6 p.m.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134