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Cole leads Bears into tourney finals

LONDON — It’s almost as if the Harlan County Black Bears brought back a new player with them from their trip to Gatlinburg last week, or at least sophomore guard Tyler Cole is playing like an improved version of himself since returning.

Cole scored 19 points Friday as the Bears advanced to the finals of the Legacy Nissan Classic with a 60-51 win over White Knoll, S.C., at South Laurel High School, earning a trip to Saturday’s championship game against the host Cardinals.

“We’ve kept our confidence in Tyler, and he is showing why he starts,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “He started hitting some shots in Gatlinburg, and I think that gave him some confidence.”

Taylor Spurlock added 13 points for the 11-3 Bears as he teamed with Cole to help the Bears start strong. Senior guard Alex Pace tossed in 12 points, all in the second half.

White Knoll (7-8), an overtime winner Thursday over North Laurel, was led by junior guard Torrance Watson with 13 points and sophomore guard Jaylen Ray with 12 points.

Spurlock and Cole teamed for five baskets as HCHS raced to an 11-0 lead before Watson broke the drought for White Knoll. Two baskets by Elisha Smallwood and one by Spurlock gave the Bears a 17-2 advantage with 2:43 left in the opening quarter.

“Taylor got off to a great start,” Jones said. “We talked before the game about what kind of offense we thought they’d run and what we needed to do on offense. We got off to a fantastic start.”

White Knoll scored the final four points of the first quarter and the first seven of the second period to close within four and prompt a timeout from Jones. Smith hit a 3-pointer and Spurlock and Josh Turner added baskets as the Bears bounced back to go up by 10. A Cole 3-pointer pushed the lead to 13 before the Timberwolves closed with four points to cut the deficit to 31-22 at halftime.

Harlan County’s lead grew to 14 early in the third quarter on a.basket by Spurlock and 3-pointer from Pace. A steal and layup by Bynum put the Bears up by 12 with three minutes left in the period, just before White Knoll went on a 10-0 with the help of several HCHS turnovers. A basket by Cole to end the quarter stopped the run and gave the Bears a 44-40 lead.

The lead alternated between four and six points through the first half of the fourth quarter. A 3-pointer by Jaylen Jennings pulled the Timberwolves within three, at 52-49, with 4:16 left in the game. The Bears were up by four with 2:05 left when White Knoll’s Jalen Williams was assessed a technical on a foul call. Cole hit one free throw and Pace added two to clinch the victory.

“We got away from doing what we did early in the game. Our defense was as good as it has been all year early in the game,” Jones said. “It was one of those games, like last night (a win over Roger Bacon, Ohio), where we didn’t run much offense because they were so athletic. We finally went to the spread where we held the ball and in that you have to handle the ball and hit free throws, and we did a pretty good job overall down the stretch.”

Harlan County will play South Laurel in the championship game Saturday at 8:15 p.m. White Knoll will play Louisvlle Western at 6:30 for third place.

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Harlan County 60, White Knoll 51

WHITE KNOLL (7-8)

Jaylen Ray 5-7 2-2 12, Torrance Watson 6-12 1-1 13, Jaylen Jennings 4-9 0-0 9, D.J. Culbreth 3-8 0-0 7, Eric Williams 0-4 0-0 0, Devon Stone 0-1 0-0 0, Jalen Williams 2-3 0-0 4, Mason Rumph 3-6 0-2 6, L.J. Curry 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 23-50 3-5 51.

HARLAN COUNTY (11-3)

James Smith 2-6 0-0 5, Taylor Spurlock 6-12 0-0 13, Alex Pace 2-6 7-8 12, Tyler Cole 7-10 4-5 19, Gabe Price 0-2 3-6 3, Patrick Bynum 1-1 0-0 2, Josh Turner 1-1 0-0 2, Elisha Smallwood 2-4 0-0 4. Totals: 21-42 14-19 60.

White Knoll 6 16 18 11 — 51

Harlan County 17 14 13 16 — 60

3-point goals: White Knoll 2-10 (Culbreth 1-3, Jennings 1-4, Watson 0-1, Stone 0-1, Rumph 0-1), Harlan County 4-9 (Spurlock 1-2, Pace 1-2, Cole 1-3, Smith 1-3). Rebounds: White Knoll 16 (Williams 6, Jennings 3, Ray 2, Watson 2, Rumph 2, Culbreth 1), Harlan County 25 (Pace 10, Price 5, Spurlock 4, Bynum 3, Cole 2, Turner 1). Turnovers: White Knoll 16, Harlan County 21. Fouled out: White Knoll (Watson). Technical fouls: White Knoll (Williams).