June Buchanan coach Elisha Justice, a former Mr. Basketball from Shelby Valley who later played for the University of Louisville, paid a compliment to the Harlan County Black Bears without meaning to with a comment to his players while they headed down the court after a Harlan County basket.
“Let’s pass the ball like they do,” said Justice, who praised the Bears’ teamwork and execution after their 50-41 win Friday over his visiting Crusaders.
“Harlan County is a really good team, and they do move the ball so well,” Justice said. “It’s hard to turn a team over like that when they have good ball handlers and is a good passing team. If you pass like that, the defense will eventually break down and you’ll get a good shot.”
After a 12-day layoff, the Bears won for the second straight night against a 14th Region team with a lineup that is among the tallest in eastern Kentucky. Cordia, last night’s opponent, featured a 7-footer and three other starters 6-4 or bigger. June Buchanan was led by 6-7 junior forwards Prince Anosike and Idris Akenyemi.
Harlan County was competitive in the rebounding department as the Crusaders won the battle of the boards 26-22. Harlan County had only eight turnovers, compared to 15 for June Buchanan.
“At times we looked really good,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “I told the kids I’m proud of them, but ‘at times’ won’t get it next week. We have to correct some things, but a lot of our problems are a credit to them and how long they were in their zone. We have to execute against teams like that better. When we did, we got great shots. When we didn’t, they got us out of our offense. Our kids have to do what they are taught to do.”
“We had some turnovers down the stretch,” Justice said. “This was a tough last regular-season game on the road. We wanted to learn from this game and take the mistakes we made and learn from them and, hopefully, do better.”
Anosiki led the 18-8 Crusaders with 20 points, hitting 10 of 16 shots from the field, while pulling down a game-high 14 rebounds. Senior guard Steven Silvers added 10 points.
Junior guard Treyce Spurlock led a balanced attack for the Bears with 17 points and seven rebounds. Cameron Carmical added 15 points, and Tyrese Simmons contributed 10 points, six rebounds and several steals.
The Bears grabbed an early 5-0 lead on baskets by Spurlock and Carmical, but June Buchanan pulled even at 9-all by the end of the period as Anosike had three baskets and five rebounds.
A Drew Nolan 3-pointer started a 7-0 run in the second quarter to put the Bears ahead to stay. Baskets by Simmons and Spurlock gave HCHS a 19-15 lead at halftime.
Jumpers by Spurlock and Nolan followed by a 3-pointer from Spurlock sparked a 9-2 run that put the Bears up by 11. The lead grew to 12 on a trey by Carmical before baskets by Akinyemi and Anosike cut the deficit to eight going into the fourth period.
June Buchanan got as close as six on five occasions in the fourth quarter, but the Bears answered each time. Six turnovers in the quarter proved costly for the Crusaders as HCHS put the game away with Spurlock and Carmical each hitting two free throws followed by a basket from Spurlock to stretch the lead to 10 with 1:55 left. The teams traded free throws from there.
Harlan County (21-4) will play Middlesboro on Tuesday in the opening round of the 52nd District Tournament at HCHS.
“I feel pretty good about this team. They’ve come a long way since the summer,” Jones said. “These two games were great stepping stones for us going into the district tournament. We’ll get back to work Monday and try to take care of business Tuesday.”
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134