Creech’s 3 sends district streak to 4
MIDDLESBORO — Senior point guard Andrew Creech has known nothing but championships in his four-year run as a member of the Harlan County High School basketball program. He made sure the Black Bears would join some elite company when his buzzer-beating 3-pointer went through the net to send HCHS to its fourth straight title, tying the Cumberland Redskins of 1970-73 and the Harlan Green Dragons of 1994-97 with the longest streaks in district history with the 46-43 win.
After Kilian Ledford had pulled Harlan even with 32 seconds left, Harlan County held for the final shot. Creech penetrated in the lane and tried to drop the ball off to Gabe Price, but it was deflected into the corner where Creech ran it down and beat the clock with a 3-pointer.
“I tried to get it to Price, but it was deflected and I ran it down and chucked it up,” said Creech. “I knew it was in because I heard coach (Michael Jones) behind me saying it was in. This is huge for us. This team is like a second family to me. All we know is to fight and battle and scrap. We hang around and make plays at the end.”
“These kids fought through a big injury with Drew (Nolan) and fought through some sickness. It’s a credit to them,” Jones said. “They just keep plugging along.”
It was by far the toughest of the four straight championships as a young Harlan squad pushed the Bears to the limit. Harlan County (20-8) continued its recent streak of poor shooting with a 29 percent (15 of 52) performance against the Dragons. HCHS has played without senior guard Drew Nolan, who underwent ACL surgery on Thursday. Senior forward Tyrese Simmons missed much of the second half when he suffered an ankle sprain in the third quarter, but he still led the Bears with 12 points.
“I wish we had shot the ball better, but they didn’t hang their heads,” Jones said. “We made just enough to win. I wanted Andrew to be aggressive at the end and get to the hole. When he ran it down, I was right behind him and knew it was good. That’s a credit to Andrew for making the play.”
“That guy has been in Rupp Arena and won a regional championship,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said of Creech. “He’s a senior and he had the wherewithal to get to the ball and get off a tough shot. My hat is off to Andrew for making the shot.”
Harlan (6-19) was led by Ledford and Jacob Wilson with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
“The last four or games we’ve competed defensively. To hold an excellent team like that to 46 points showed we defended,” Akal said. “Offensively, we still need some growth, but we have some young guys who are improving.”
Cade Barnes gave the Dragons a 3-0 lead to start, but HCHS answered with two baskets by Pace and one from Simmons. Harlan pulled even at 8-8 by the end of the period as Jordan Akal and Dakota Shepherd had baskets.
Simmons gave the Bears a spark early in the second quarter with a basket off a rebound and a three-point play after a turnover. The Harlan County offense couldn’t manage another field goal after that, missing 12 straight to close the half. Harlan took the lead on a three-point play by Austin Adams, but two free throws by Simmons tied the game. Two free throws by Ledford gave the Dragons a 17-16 halftime edge.
A Spurlock 3-pointer and basket by Price put the Bears back on top early in the third quarter. A 3-pointer by Pace extended the lead to four, but Harlan fought back behind 3-pointers from Wilson and Akal. A Simmons 3 and basket by Patrick Bynum put the Bears back up by five before Wilson closed the period with four straight free throws after Price was assessed both a personal foul and technical in the scramble for a loose ball.
Two free throws each by Lamar Burkhart and Creech helped the Bears go up by two in an intense fourth quarter where both scoring and possessions came at a premium. Price’s basket by 55 seconds left put HCHS up by three before Ledford’s long-range trey tied the game with 32 seconds left, setting the stage for Creech to play hero.
Pace led the all-tournament team as most valuable player. Creech, Simmons, Spurlock and Lamar Burkhart were also selected from HCHS. Ledford, Akal, Jon Eldridge and Cade Barnes were were selected from Harlan. Sawyer Brock and Trey Brock were selected from Bell County. Christian Hubbard and Drake Thomas represented Middlesboro.
Harlan County won the district cheerleading competition for the third straight year. Bell County placed second.
Both teams advance to the 13th Region Tournament opening Wednesday at The Corbin Arena.
Harlan County 46, Harlan 43
Jordan Akal 3-9 0-0 8, Cade Barnes 1-3 0-0 3, Kilian Ledford 3-11 5-6 13, Carter Barnes 0-1 0-0 0, Jon Eldridge 1-2 1-2 3, Jacob Wilson 2-7 6-6 11, Dakota Shepherd 1-2 0-0 2, Austin Adams 1-2 1-2 3, Jared Hawkins 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 12-37 13-16 43.
HARLAN COUNTY (20-8)
Andrew Creech 2-9 3-4 8, Taylor Spurlock 2-9 0-0 5, Alex Pace 4-12 0-0 9, Tyrese Simmons 4-12 3-3 12, Lamar Burkhart 0-4 2-4 2, Gabe Price 2-4 3-5 7, Patrick Bynum 1-2 1-2 3. Totals: 15-52 12-18 46.
Harlan 8 9 17 9 — 43
Harlan County 8 8 19 11 — 46
3-point goals: Harlan 6-16 (Akdal 2-3, Ledford 2-8, Cade Barnes 1-1, Wilson 1-4), Harlan County 4-14 (Creech 1-1, Simmons 1-2, Pace 1-3, Spurlock 1-5, Price 0-1, Burkhart 0-2). Rebounds: Harlan 28 (Ledford 6, Eldridge 6, Carter Barnes 4, Shepherd 3, Adams 3, Akal 2, Wilson 2, Hawkins 2), Harlan County 32 (Simmons 9, Pace 6, Price 5, Creech 4, Spurlock 3, Burkhart 3, Bynum 2). Turnovers: Harlan 11, Harlan County 5. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: Harlan County (Price).