With four of their top six players from a year ago graduating, there were plenty of people around the 13th Region who wondered if the Harlan County Black Bears could approach their 18-win season of 2015.
The youthful Bears, with a roster that lacks a senior, matched that total Thursday with a 65-36 win at Harlan that improved Harlan County’s overall record to 18-4 and completed a perfect 6-0 slate against 52nd District competition.
“We wanted to finish the regular season unbeaten (against district competition) and didn’t want to let any momentum go backwards,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “I’m proud of the kids. There were times tonight we looked really good offensively, and there were times we reverted to bad habits, but we’ll correct it.”
Harlan County won the game by dominating the boards. Led by sophomores Tyrese Simmons and Drew Nolan with 10 and eight rebounds, respectively, the Bears outrebounded Harlan 37-14.
“We got killed on the boards. When we did stop them, we couldn’t rebound the ball,” Harlan coach David Parks said.
Simmons had another big performance for the Bears in multiple areas, sparking a strong defensive effort that limited Harlan to 25 percent (12 of 48) shooting while leading in rebounds and adding 14 points.
“For the most part, we did a good job of blocking out, and I thought we went to the offensive boards well,” Jones said. “When Tyrese uses his athleticism he’s hard to handle. He played exceptionally well tonight. He was all over the place.”
Junior point guard Cameron Carmical led the HCHS offense with a 22-point, six-rebound, six-assist effort. Junior wing Treyce Spurlock added 12 points and six rebounds.
Senior guard Drew Parks, honored before the game before becoming the first member of the Harlan 1,000-point club in a decade, was the only consistent offensive threat for the Dragons with 16 points.
Both teams took their time on offense as the Bears tried to make sure they covered Harlan’s 3-point shooters.
“Our plan was to play halfcourt man to man,” Jones said. “We felt it would be best for us, and it’s a credit to them. They are hard to press. We tried once, and Parks shot an open 3 and made it, so that was the reason for that.”
Parks said the game was a step back for his team, which lost by 28 at HCHS earlier in the season but had won its last two games by at least 40 points.
“We hit a few shots early, but we hit very few out of our offense,” Parks said. “I know it looks like we’re not running an offense, but we don’t have a post man. My post man is 5-9. We’ll deal with and do the best we can. I’m not aggravated with the kids. I’m aggravated with myself. I hope we can get some things straightened out the next couple of days.”
All five HCHS starters had one basket each in the first quarter as the Bears built a 13-7 lead with the help of a 10-3 advantage on the boards, leading to several second-shot opportunities.
Parks hit back-to-back 3-pointers to get Harlan as close as five midway through the second quarter, but the Dragons could manage on only basket the remainder of the period. The Bears moved out to a 29-19 halftime lead with the help of two straight baskets by Simmons to close the half.
A 3-pointer by senior guard Caleb Hogue pulled Harlan within nine with 3:50 left in the third quarter, but the Harlan offense fell silent again as the Bears closed the period with a 10 straight points behind Carmical and Spurlock to all but put the game away with a 45-26 lead. Spurlock hit a 3-pointer from over 30 feet away at the buzzer.
Hogue, who missed the first half of the season after suffering a torn ACL in the summer, went to the floor in pain while chasing a loose ball out of bounds in the final seconds of the third quarter. Parks said after the game that two doctors who assisted Hogue on the floor told him they thought it was “scar tissue” and not another serious injury. Hogue, who returned from the injury in only five months, was carried off the floor but eventually returned to the bench and will travel to Lexington on Friday for an examination.
“We hope he’ll be OK,” Parks said.
Spurlock, Carmical and Nolan opened the fourth quarter with baskets as Harlan County’s lead eventually grew to as many as 30 points.
“We were as stagnant offensively as I’ve ever seen us, and it was my fault because we’ve been trying to run a freelance offense all year,” Parks said. “When you do that you give kids freedom, and we have difficulty with freedom. All we want to do is pass and stand, and you can’t do that, especially against a good team, and they’re a good team. I don’t think they’re as good as we made them look, but they’re a good team. We have to go back to the drawing board.”
Harlan (13-9 overall, 2-3 district) plays at Oneida Baptist on Saturday afternoon. Harlan County (18-4 overall, 6-0 district) plays at Richmond Model on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The Bears’ game scheduled for Feb. 13 at home was canceled by Lexington Bryan Station. HCHS added a game at home on Feb. 18 against Cordia, the All “A” Classic state champion.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134