Bears find balance in defeating Harlan

Published 12:45 am Saturday, December 16, 2017

On a night when their 13th Region championship banner from last March was unveiled, the Harlan County Black Bears started to look more like the team that closed last season so well and less like the one that opened the current season.

Harlan County improved to 6-0 with the win, but for the first time this year seemed in control from the start. The Bears also featured the same type of offensive balance that was a strength of last year’s squad. Junior guard Alex Pace scored 22 to lead the Bears and was followed closely by senior guards Drew Nolan and Andrew Creech with 18 and 14 points, respectively. Sophomore guard Taylor Spurlock came off the bench to chip in with 11 points.

“I knew our kids were ready to play, but I told them we have to do that every game, not just against Harlan,” said Harlan County coach Michael Jones. “We got after them to start the game and did a good job defensively. We also ran our offense better than we have all year. We got some great shots out of our offense. We tell them if we run the offense like we are supposed to everyone will get a chance to score.”

Harlan coach Derrick Akal said the game was something of a learning experience for his team, which fell to 0-5 on the season.

“Michael does a great job and that team is used to winning,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “We still have to learn to do that. We got it down to 10 a couple of times, but we just don’t know how to get over that hump. I think over the course of the season we’ll learn.”

Harlan County put together its best offensive performance, shooting 53 percent (31 of 58) from the field.

“They hit some tough shots, but we didn’t do a good job defensively,” Akal said. “We also gave them a lot of inside shots, some things under the bucket we can’t afford to give up.”

Eighth-grade guard Jordan Akal had his best game as a high school player as he led the Dragons with 18 points, including a half-court shot to close the first half. Junior forward Kilian Ledford added 15 points.

“Jordan will do eighth-grade stuff. He did eighth-grade stuff his first four or five games, but he’s talented,” Akal said. “He had a good game, but he didn’t help us win the game.”

Pace, Nolan and Creech each had baskets as Harlan County wasted little time taking control with a 13-1 run to open the game. Austin Adams and Cade Barnes answered for the Dragons as Harlan cut the deficit to 19-13 by the end of the period.

Senior forward Tyrese Simmons, off to a somewhat slow start in his third year as a starter due to the Bears’ deep playoff run in football, had two straight big plays off turnovers early in the second quarter, including a dunk that helped HCHS build a 13-point advantage.

“We’re waiting on Ty. He had a long season in football, which was great, and he’s not good his full legs under him yet,” Jones said. “He did get that dunk tonight and that made him play a little harder. I told him if she stays aggressive like that he’d probably get one a game. We need to get him more involved offensively.”

Spurlock gave the Bears a boost off the bench once again, including two baskets in the third quarter as HCHS stretched its advantage to 63-47.

“He’s a matchup problem for most teams because of his length and he’s played well in all five games,” Jones said. “I couldn’t be prouder of him. He’s smart and gives us a lift off the bench.”

Creech, Nolan, Spurlock and Patrick Bynum scored in a 9-0 run as Harlan County took its biggest lead at 82-52 with 1:52 left. Harlan County hit eight of 14 shots in the final period.

Harlan County will play Magoffin County on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Pike Central. Harlan will be at home Monday against Pikeville in the Doc Gray Classic.

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Harlan County 82, Harlan 58

HARLAN (0-5)

Jordan Akal 6-12 4-5 18, Cade Barnes 2-6 4-4 9, Jacob WIlson 2-8 1-2 6, Kilian Ledford 6-10 0-0 15, Jonathan Eldridge 1-1 0-0 2, Jared Hawkins 0-3 0-0 0, Austin Adams 1-3 3-7 5, Carter Barnes 0-0 0-0 0, Tate Bryson 1-2 0-0 2, Caleb Adkins 0-0 0-0 0 Totals: 19-47 13-20 58.

HARLAN COUNTY (6-0)

Andrew Creech 6-12 2-2 14, Drew Nolan 8-13 2-2 18, Alex Pace 6-14 8-9 22, Tyrese Simmons 3-5 0-0 6, Lamar Burkhart 3-3 0-0 6, Taylor Spurlock 4-8 1-2 11, Gabe Price 1-1 0-0 3, Patrick Bynum 1-2 0-0 2, Tyler Cole 0-0 0-0 0, A.J. Simmons 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 31-58 14-15 82.

Harlan 13 15 19 11 — 58

Harlan County 19 22 22 19 — 82

3-point goals: Harlan 7-21 (Ledford 3-5, Akal 2-5, Cade Barnes 1-3, Wilson 1-4, Adams 0-3, Bryson 0-1), Harlan County 6-15 (Pace 3-5, Spurlock 2-4, Price 1-1, Creech 0-1, Nolan 0-4). Rebounds: Harlan 17 (Eldridge 5, Wilson 3, Carter Barnes 3, Hawkins 2, Adams 2, Bryson 1, Adkins 1), Harlan County 33 (Pace 7, Simmons 7, Burkhart 6, Creech 4, Spurlock 4, Nolan 3, Price 1, Bynum 1). Turnovers: Harlan 17, Harlan County 10. Fouled out: None.