PIKEVILLE – Still in the holiday spirit, the Harlan County Black Bears weren’t quite in the taking mood on Thursday. Breathitt County tried to give away its fourth quarter lead in the first round of the Pikeville Invitational on Tuesday, but Harlan County wouldn’t accept the generosity. The Black Bears were unable to capitalize on several opportunities down the stretch and fell 56-54 to the 14th Region foe.
“Everybody has to show up to play, and I don’t think that happened. We dug ourselves a hole too many times and had to fight our way back out of it,” said Harlan County coach Mike Jones. “They tried to give us the game there at the end, but we couldn’t convert.’
Breathitt’s Alex Hamilton had three chances to extend a two-point lead from the free throw line in the final 15 seconds, but missed all three attempts. Harlan County sophomore Zack Wilson grabbed the rebound on the second of the first pair of missed free throws. Wilson raced down the floor, but turned the ball over with eight seconds remaining. After another Hamilton miss, Brewer had an opportunity in the lane, but his shot was off the mark.
The Bears also struggled from the free throw line in the fourth, with five misses in the final period. Harlan County was just 13-of-25 from the charity strip in the contest.
“It just comes down to mental toughness. We have talked about it. We didn’t want that to be something that would come back to bites us and it did. We just made some really silly mistakes,” Jones said. “We just didn’t deserve to win the game. That’s my honest opinion.”
There were six lead changes in the first quarter as the teams exchanged baskets. Alex Sergent gave Harlan County the lead late in the period with a pair of free throws with 1:21 remaining. The senior guard finished with 18 points to pace the Black Bears.
Richard Trent closed the scoring and put Breathitt back on top 16-15 with a jumper in the final minute.
The Bobcats added to their advantage to open the second quarter. Breathitt opened the period on an 11-4 run that extended the margin to 27-19. However, Harlan County responded with a run of its own to close the half. After a basket from sophomore Tyler Miller, Sergent drained a pair of treys to close the gap to two. Miller then found sophomore Cody Bumgarder under the basket to tie the game at 29 at the break.
Much like the second quarter, Breathitt built another lead to open the third. Junior Wesley Noble had seven points in the period as the Bobcats went back up by eight. Noble finished with 20 points to lead all scorers.
A bucket from Harlan County’s Tyler Brewer closed the gap to six with under one-minute remaining, but Noble answered with a basket on the other end to make it 45-37 heading into the fourth quarter.
Sergent powered Harlan County’s late comeback bid with 10 points in the fourth quarter. Sergent hit a layup off of a steal to cut the deficit to five with 1:55 left, and reduced it to just two when he drained a trey with 21 seconds remaining, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Bears from their first loss of the season.
“I hate to lose period, and I really hate to lose like this, but maybe our kids will respond to this and decide that we have to play. We’re not just going to show up and win,” Jones said.
Harlan County (11-1) will face Highlands in the consolation bracket today, while Breathitt County (5-7) will meet Betsy Layne in the semifinals.
Breathitt County (56) – Wesley Noble 20, Ryan Cox 9, Alex Hamilton 17, Braxton Whitmore 0, Luke Chaney 8, Richard Trent 2.
Harlan County (54) – Tyler Brewer 9, Alex Sergent 18, Chad Massingill 0, Aaron Caldwell 9, Tyler Miller 10, Zach Caldwell 3, James Bond 2, Cody Bumgardner 3, Zack Wilson 0.