Bears overcome drought, edge Whitley

Published 12:20 am Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Playing over 12 minutes of high school basketball without a field goal is rare.

Playing over 12 minutes of high school basketball without a field goal and still finding a way to win is almost impossible.

Somehow, the Harlan County Black Bears found a way to overcome their second half drought Monday at Whitley County after watching an 11-point lead in the third quarter turn into a one-point deficit in the fourth period.

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Senior guards Drew Nolan and Andrew Creech had the second and third HCHS baskets of the second half in the final 63 seconds as the Bears won 51-49 on Creech’s runner in the lane with three seconds to play.

“We’ve done that at times all year and it’s something we as players and coaches have to figure out before the postseason,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “We can’t afford to go through those stretches later, but we’ve been able to win several times that way this year several times, which shows what we are capable of if we can figure it out. We’re getting good shots, but not finishing. We’re not being strong with the ball and making silly turnovers, but they are all correctable things.”

Senior guard Corey Johnson, who suffered a sprained ankle on Friday against South Laurel and sat out Saturday’s game against Mercer County, came back strong last night with a 29-point performance.

“Give Whitley credit. They ran some sets that gave us trouble,” Jones said. “Johnson is a great player. He can play.”

“I thought we played a good game tonight. We just came up a few plays short,” Whitley County coach Jerry Overbay said. “Our kids played their tails off. We’re moving in the right direction. We sat Corey out Saturday, but I told him he had to suck it up and play tonight.”

Whitley County had 1.8 seconds left after Creech’s basket but was unable to get off a shot. Johnson took the ball out and passed to a teammate out of bounds along the baseline so he could get the return pass for a last-second attempt, but the clock was started on the first pass and ran out before Johnson could shoot.

“It shouldn’t have started until the ball was in play,” Overbay said.

Nolan scored 18 points and Creech added 17 to lead the 15-3 Bears, who had three fewer field goals than the Colonels but hit 17 free throws compared to nine for Whitley. Harlan County also benefited from several extra opportunities due to a 23-11 rebounding advantage.

“They hurt us on the boards, especially the first half,” Overbay said. “I think we confused them a little bit offensively.”

Johnson couldn’t miss in the opening quarter as he hit five of five jumpers. Hunter Hollingsworth also hit both of his shots as the Colonels connected on seven of nine as a team and led 15-14 after a first quarter that featured seven lead changes. Harlan County hit five of 12 shots in the quarter, led by two baskets from Creech.

Nolan took over in the second period as he sandwiched two 3-pointers around a strong drive to the basket in his personal 7-2 run that put the Bears up by five less than two minutes into the quarter.

“Drew has played well the last three games,” Jones said. “He’s not only scoring, but he’s defending and rebounding. He was a load for them to handle tonight. When we got down one that’s who I wanted to go to. He made a nice move and put us ahead.”

Five straight points by Dakota Lawson got Whitley as close as two before baskets by Patrick Bynum and Lamar Burkhart gave the Bears some breathing room. A 3-pointer by Nolan pushed the lead to 31-23 at halftime. Whitley cooled off to two-of-seven shooting in the period while the Bears connected on seven of 13.

Harlan County’s lead grew to 41-30 with 2:53 left in the third quarter before Johnson scored six straight points in an 8-0 run that pulled Whitley within three going into the final period.

The Colonels, who fell to 6-14, took their first lead since the first quarter on a three-point play by Johnson followed by a basket by Dakota Lawson with 1:30 to play. Nolan put HCHS back ahead, then Tyrese Simmons blocked a Johnson shot to set up a free throw opportunity for Creech, who hit one of two. Johnson’s two free throws with 27.7 seconds left tied the game before Creech hit the game-winner.

Harlan County travels to Corbin on Friday and will play host to Covington Scott on Saturday at 1 p.m. in a rematch from last year’s state tournament.


Freshman guard Tyler Cole scored 15 points to lead the Harlan County junior varsity team to a 41-35 victory.

Elisha Smallwood and Michael Simpson added nine points each for the 3-3 Bears. Josh Turner scored four. Hunter Helton added three. Matthew Simpson scored one.

Tanner Gilbert scored 14 points and Devin Bowling added 13 to pace the Colonels. Tyler Downs and John Rowe scored four each.


Harlan County 51, Whitley County 49


Andrew Creech 4-11 9-11 17, Drew Nolan 6-12 2-2 18, Alex Pace 0-3 2-2 2, Tyrese Simmons 1-5 3-4 5, Lamar Burkhart 2-3 1-1 5, Patrick Bynum 2-2 0-0 4, Taylor Spurlock 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 15-40 17-20 51.


Corey Johnson 11-16 7-8 29, Hunter Hollingsworth 3-5 0-0 7, Dakota Lawson 3-8 2-2 9, Tyler Lawson 2-3 0-0 4, Jarrett Carr 0-0 0-0 0, Devin Bowling 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 18-32 9-10 49.

Harlan County 14 17 10 10 — 51

Whitley County 15 8 15 11 — 49

3-point goals: Harlan County 4-9 (Nolan 4-5, Creech 0-1, Simmons 0-1, Burkhart 0-1, Spurlock 0-1), Whitley County 4-10 (Johnson 2-4, Hollingsworth 1-1, D. Lawson 1-5). Rebounds: Harlan County 23 (Simmons 9, Nolan 5, Pace 3, Bynum 3, Burkhart 2, Spurlock 1), Whitley County 11 (Johnson 3, T. Lawson 3, Carr 3, D. Lawson 1, Bowling 1). Turnovers: Harlan County 5, Whitley County 7. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: Harlan County (Nolan), Whitley County (Hollingsworth).