Strong start sends Bears past Harlan
When Kilian Ledford scored off a strong drive to the basket off the opening tip, the Harlan Green Dragons had the lead and the early momentum in an emotional district game Friday against visiting Harlan County.
What happened after that was one of the strangest stretches of basketball in the 11-year history of the series. Harlan County scored the next 20 points and held Harlan without a field goal for almost 12 minutes as the Dragons missed 17 straight shots from the field. The Bears led by as many as 19 points in the first half as Harlan shot an ice cold 14 percent (three of 22).
Harlan battled back in the second half, getting as close as 10 in the third quarter and eight in the final minutes before the Bears pulled away for a 59-48 victory.
“They are extremely talented with some great players, and coach Akal does such a great job with them. We talked for two days about being aggressive defensively and trying to run them off the 3-point line,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “I don’t know if it was our defense or they just missed shots.”
“It’s tough to dig out of a hole like that,” Akal said. “We fought hard the second half and got back in it, but we didn’t capitalize from the free throw line down the stretch.”
Sophomore guard James Smith scored 19 points and senior guard Alex Pace added 16 as the Bears improved to 4-2 overall and 2-0 in district action, winning their 30 straight district game in the process.
Ledford, a senior guard, scored 22 and freshman guard Jordan Akal added 13 for the 3-3 Dragons, who fell to 2-1 in district play.
Smith and Pace each had two baskets in the first quarter as the Bears hit eight of 14 shots to build an 18-2 lead.
Taylor Spurlock led the Bears in the second quarter with two baskets. Harlan hit only two of eight shots in the quarter, but a 3-pointer by Cade Barnes and two free throws by Ledford to close the half cut the deficit to 28-15.
A pair of 3-pointers by Ledford pulled the Dragons within 10 twice early in the fourth quarter before Pace hit a shot and added two free throws followed by a 3-pointer from Spurlock to push the lead back to 17. Jon Eldridge and Ledford scored for Harlan as the Dragons trailed 44-29 going into the final period.
Baskets by Jaeden Gist, Akal and Ledford pulled Harlan within 11 before Smith grabbed the momentum back for HCHS with his third 3-pointer of the night. Four straight points by Pace pushed the lead to 13 before Harlan made a final run behind Eldridge, Akal and Barnes. Two free throws by Akal cut the Harlan County lead to 56-48 with 46.3 seconds left. Smith answered with two free throws for the Bears.
Jones said he’d like to see his Bears play with the same intensity they showed Friday all season.
“We talked to the kids about controlling their emotions, but they were ready to play. We have to be ready to do that night in and night out,” Jones said. “If we could bottle that up and take it to Jackson County tomorrow we’d be all right. We have to learn to play that way every night.”
The game was stopped by officials with only seconds to play when the Harlan coach and a Harlan County fan had a heated disagreement during a break in the action. Security officials in attendance separated the two quickly near the HCHS cheering section.
Harlan County travels to Jackson County for a 3 p.m. game on Saturday. Harlan will at home against Leslie County at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Doc Gray Classic.
Harlan County 59, Harlan 48
HARLAN COUNTY (4-2)
James Smith 6-12 4-6 19, Taylor Spurlock 4-10 0-0 9, Alex Pace 5-13 5-6 16, Tyler Cole 0-0 0-0 0, Gabe Price 3-4 1-2 7, Patrick Bynum 2-5 0-0 4, Josh Turner 0-1 0-1 0, Elisha Smallwood 2-3 0-0 4. Totals: 22-48 10-15 59.
Jordan Akal 3-19 6-11 13, Cade Barnes 2-14 0-0 5, Jared Hawkins 0-4 0-0 0, Kilian Ledford 6-16 7-9 22, Jon Eldridge 3-4 0-0 6, Jaeden Gist 1-2 0-1 2, Kyler McLendon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 15-59 13-21 48.
Harlan County 18 10 16 15 — 59
Harlan 2 13 14 19 — 48
3-point goals: Harlan County 5-14 (Smith 3-5, Spurlock 1-2, Pace 1-6, Bynum 0-1), Harlan 5-31 (Ledford 3-11, Akal 1-8, Barnes 1-10, Hawkins 0-2). Rebounds: Harlan County 35 (Price 10, Pace 9, Spurlock 6, Smith 4, Bynum 3, Turner 2, Cole 1), Harlan 27 (Eldridge 7, Ledford 6, Akal 4, Gist 4, Barnes 3, Hawkins 3). Turnovers: Harlan County 13, Harlan 8. Fouled out: Harlan County (Bynum, Price), Harlan (Barnes).