Jones became the 35th Kentucky high school basketball coach — and only the fourth active coach, according to Kentucky High School Athletic Association statistics — to record his 500th coaching win as the Bears rallied for a 59-50 win Sunday over Lee County in the Country Music Highway Classic at Johnson Central.
“You have to have good players and good assistant coaches and good support, especially from your family,” Jones said. “I also want to thank God for the opportunity to keep doing this. At one time, I thought I’d quit and wasn’t going to coach anymore. I appreciate the opportunity.
“And, of course, you know a coach doesn’t win any games, but he loses them. My teams have won 500 ballgames, and I’ve lost (193).”
Like each of their five wins this season, the Bears didn’t put the game away until the final minute as they outscored Lee 21-8 in the fourth quarter. The Bears didn’t take their first lead until the final five minutes and needed a strong second half defensively to rally. Much like in their comeback win Saturday over Magoffin County, the Bears played better on offense after switching to a man-to-man defense with full-court pressure.
“Our offense forced us into having to play that way defensively, because we were so poor offensively,” Jones said. “We still can’t get kids to comprehend it enough to run it right. Those are things we have to try and correct.
“I told our kids I’m glad we won, but I’m tired of us coming out of the locker room not doing what we’re supposed to. Our defense to start the game wasn’t what killed us, it was our offense.”
Senior center Josh Caldwell battled back from a couple of poor performances in the tournament to lead the 5-3 Bears with 17 points. Junior point guard Tyrek Simmons sparked the comeback with a 16-point, eight-rebound effort. Kyle Hogue, a junior guard, also played well down the stretch with eight of his 12 points coming in the fourth quarter.
Senior center Jared Pelfrey scored 21 points and senior quarter Aaron Charles added 17 to lead the 3-4 Bobcats, who blew a big lead for the third straight night. Coach Danny Wright blames the Bobcats’ slide on poor ball handling.
“We’re just not executing down the stretch, and we’re not taking care of the basketball,” he said. “Our guards have got to step up and execute at the end of the game.
“We came out of the gates strong and looked good early. In the fourth quarter, it seems like we’re playing not to lose instead of playing to win.”
Lee led by as many as 12 points in the first quarter and held a 19-9 advantage at the end of the period.
Harlan County closed to within four in the second quarter on baskets by Simmons, Caldwell and T.J. Green. A basket by Charles to close the quarter pushed the Bobcats’ lead to 26-20.
The Bobcats’ lead was at seven midway through the third quarter when Simmons and Caldwell sparked a run that helped the Bears pull even at 38-38. Dontarius Pittman and Pelfrey closed the period with baskets to give Lee a four-point lead going into the final period.
Dillon Cain and Simmons each had baskets in an 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter as the Bears turned a five-point deficit into a three-point lead as the Bobcats struggled against Harlan County’s pressure. A three-point play by Charles pulled the Bobcats even, but Caldwell answered with two straight baskets as the Bears began to pound the ball inside after having numerous shots blocked in the first three quarters by the tall and athletic Lee frontline.
After Pelfrey cut the deficit to two with a basket, Harlan County closed the game with seven straight points over the final 1:15.
While the comeback victories have been exciting, Jones says they won’t be necessary each night if the Bears learn to execute their offense.
“We want to attack certain areas, and when it’s not there other things are open,” he said. “We’ve been working on that since June. We have flashes when we remember, and other times we are in slow motion.
“We just need some extra practice time. When we get several days in a row, then if we don’t correct it and the kids don’t pick up on it, then somebody has got to play besides them.”
Harlan County will play tonight at 5:45 for third place in the tournament.
HARLAN COUNTY (5-3)
Tyrek Simmons 4-11 8-10 16, T.J. Green 2-7 0-0 6, Kyle Hogue 3-8 6-6 12, Blake Polson 1-3 0-0 2, Josh Caldwell 8-11 1-2 17, Dustin Bray 0-0 0-0 0, Dillon Cain 3-4 0-2 6, Eric Miller 0-1 0-2 0. Totals: 21-48 15-22 59.
LEE COUNTY (3-4)
Gus Wise 3-8 0-0 8, Aaron Charles 7-17 1-4 17, Tyler Campbell 0-4 0-0 0, Dontarius Pittman 2-5 0-1 4, Jared Pelfrey 8-11 5-6 21, Derek Childers 0-0 0-0 0, Archie Reece 0-2 0-0 0, Chase Baker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-47 6-11 50.
Harlan County 9 11 18 21 —59
Lee County 19 7 16 8 —50
3-point goals: Harlan County 2-5 (Green 2-4, Simmons 0-1), Lee County 4-17 (Wise 2-5, Charles 2-6, Campbell 0-4, Reece 0-2). Rebounds: Harlan County 25 (Simmons 8), Lee County 23 (Charles, Pelfrey 7). Turnovers: Harlan County 13, Lee County 21. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: Harlan County (Polson).