Going against an opponent that won the state All “A” Classic only a few weeks earlier with a lineup that includes several Division I recruits and features a 7-footer and three other starters 6-4 or taller, Harlan County coach Michael Jones knew he needed a big game from his stars.
Cameron Carmical and Treyce Spurlock delivered, teaming for 49 points as the Bears improved to 20-4 on the season with a 73-53 win over Cordia on Thursday at HCHS.
“In big games like this against a team that is very athletic, your best players have to show up, and they did tonight,” Jones said. “The other kids did some things well, especially defensively, but offensively those kids carried us, and we needed every bit of it.”
“Their point guard does a great job of running the team and doing what the coach wants done, and (Spurlock) is a special player who can score inside or outside,” said Cordia coach Rodrick Rhodes, a former University of Kentucky standout. “If a kid scores 1,000 points in high school, he’s a pretty good player, and they both will do that.”
Carmical became the fourth member of the school’s 1,000-point club with a 3-pointer late in the third quarter. Spurlock will likely become the fifth next week as he only needs 31 points.
“I’m very proud of Cameron,” Jones said. “He’s played well this year, and we hope he continues that. We’ll have another one in a few days.”
Jones was concerned how his team would play after a 12-day layoff since its last game.
“We were worried as coaches about how we would play, because the last time we had a layoff we didn’t play well,” Jones said. “There were times tonight you could tell we’d been off a while, but there were times we executed pretty well. We’re pleased to come out with a win.”
It was the second straight loss for the Lions, who fell at Clay County last night. Teams that play in the state All “A” Classic often struggle with a letdown afterwards, and the Lions also know their season will end Saturday as they serve a two-year KHSAA suspension from postseason play for recruiting violations.
“Not only are we going through (a letdown), we’re not going to get to play in the district or region. The kids realize we’re not playing for anything,” Rhodes said. “I don’t want to take anything from Harlan County. They are a good team and well coached. They have some really good players. We’re just not a motivated group, and I’ve tried everything.”
Sophomore guard Kareem McDonald scored 20 points to lead the Lions. Junior guard Anthony Nelson added 13 and junior forward Malik Henry scored 12. Oumar Keita, a 7-foot junior center, was held to six points. The Lions played without senior guard Ajenee Chisolm.
Cordia was ahead 5-3 when a layup and 3-pointer by Spurlock ignited a 10-0 spurt to put the Bears up 13-5. Carmical threw to Tyrese Simmons for a layup, then hit a 3 of his own to cap the run.
A four-point play by Spurlock extended the lead to nine. Andrew Creech provided a spark off the bench with a pair of baskets in the final minute of the period to put the Bears up 21-10.
“He came in and played well,” Jones said. “Andrew is capable of that. If he just plays and doesn’t get overanxious, he can help us a lot down the stretch.”
Spurlock and Carmical pushed the lead to 15 early in the second quarter before the Bears’ offense fell silent with only a Spurlock basket over the next four minutes. The HCHS lead was down to eight with a minute left before Creech hit another jumper and Carmical closed the half with a 3 to extend the Harlan County lead to 37-24 at the break.
Harlan County extended its lead to 18 early in the third quarter on two baskets inside by Turner and another 3 by Spurlock.
Cordia cut the deficit to 13 before Carmical reached the 1,000-point mark with a 3-pointer with 1:40 left in the period. A free throw by Spurlock gave the Bears a 50-33 lead going into the fourth quarter.
McDonald hit back-to-back 3-pointers to get Cordia as close as 11, but Carmical came to the rescue by hitting three straight shots. Lamar Burkhart and Creech added baskets as HCHS closed the game with a 12-6 run to win by 20.
“They are very talented and big. We wanted to play fast, but we wanted to play smart,” Jones said. “Once we slowed down and got in our offense, we got some good shots.
“People asked me all week if we’re playing them a zone, but we’re not playing anybody a zone. I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job of guarding them man to man.”
Harlan County closes its regular season schedule Friday at home against June Buchanan.
Rhodes came away impressed with the Harlan County High School gymnasium, calling it the nicest he’s seen in Kentucky.
“This is unbelievable. I’ve never been in anything like this at a high school. It’s the best high school arena I’ve seen in five years, and I’ve traveled all over the state to find basketball games,” Rhodes said. “This facility is nice. The kids really enjoyed playing here and were really excited to play here when they walked in and saw it.”
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134