CORBIN — Michael Jones was happy to see his Harlan County Black Bears win Thursday in the opening round of the 13th Region Tournament.
He was almost as happy to know he will no longer have to hear about his Black Bears never having won a game at the Corbin Arena.
Harlan County had watched four of its first seven seasons end in Corbin, but this year’s Black Bears have surpassed expectations all season and will take a 24-4 record into the semifinals after defeating Corbin for the first time in postseason play and avenging their only loss against a 13th Region foe.
“It feels good, but we’re not done,” Jones said. “We didn’t come up here just to get one.”
Harlan County took the lead early in the second quarter and never trailed, finally putting the game away in the fourth quarter. Standout junior guards Cameron Carmical and Treyce Spurlock each hit shots to begin the final period. The Bears hit seven of 11 shot from the field and 14 of 19 free throws.
“We told them during the timeout that your big players have to step up in big moments and they have all year,” Jones said. “We needed for them to take over, and they did. I thought everybody played well.”
The Bears featured a balanced attack with Spurlock scoring 15 points, followed by David Turner with 13, Tyrese Simmons with 12, Carmical with 11 and Drew Nolan with nine.
Corbin (19-11) was a one-man show on offense as standout sophomore guard Cody Taylor poured in 31 points. He had 30 in the Hounds’ 57-55 win over HCHS in January.
“He’s a great basketball player, but we’ve got to have more balance,” Pietrowski said. “That’s something we’ll address in the offseason. I thought we had some opportunities for some kids to step up and make shots, but they just didn’t fall. We can’t be so one-dimensional like we were this year.”
“I thought we did a good job on Taylor. He’s just a heck of a player. We held him to six the first half, and he still ended up with 31,” Jones said. “We said coming down here that we couldn’t let the other kids beat us. I thought we did a good job of that.”
The Bears also dominated the glass with the game on the line, outrebounding Corbin 14-4 in the final, led by five from Turner, who finished with 10 rebounds.
“David is just a warrior,” Jones said. “He does all the little things that you don’t’ see in the stats or see in the paper. He was big for us. I’ve told him before that he’s the glue that holds us together.”
The first quarter couldn’t have been any closer with four ties and neither team leading by more than two points.
Taylor took eight of the Redhounds’ eight shots in the quarter but hit only only two against the tight defense of Simmons.
The Harlan County stars also struggled as Carmical and Spurlock were held without a basket. Nolan had two baskets for the Bears while Simmons and Turner added one each. Cameron Maguet, a freshman guard, had two baskets for the Hounds.
With the score tied 8-8 going into the second quarter, baskets by Turner and Carmical put Harlan County ahead to stay for the rest of the half. A jumper by Spurlock and free throw by Nolan pushed the Bears’ lead to 17-12.
Cameron Maguet hit one free throw and Sam Taylor added two as Corbin pulled to within two.
Harlan County held for the last shot and Carmical hit a jumper in the lane as the Bears took a 19-15 lead into the halftime break.
“I felt in the first half we had a chance to get a lead, but we had too many turnovers and really weren’t finishing,” Pietrowski said. “I thought it was kind of ugly on both sides in the first half, but they were better than us tonight and deserve to win.”
“It was good defense or bad offense. I’m not sure which one, but our kids have battled hard on defense all year,” Jones said. “We weren’t going to change anything. We were going to play them man to man.
Despite the loss, Pietrowski was happy with the way his young team played this season after losing their only senior, center Conner Hopkins, to a knee injury.
“I thought we did an outstanding job,” he said. “As long as I’m the coach here I will expect our kids to compete for a regional title, but with that said we lost Conner and battled a lot of injuries this year. I’m proud of these kids. I really am.”
Harlan County will face the Clay County/Barbourville winner on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. South Laurel will play Knox Central in the first semifinal at 1 p.m.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134