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Tigers knock out Harlan in All ‘A’ Classic

RICHMOND — Former AAU teammates, Harlan’s Jordan Akal and Paintsville’s Colby Fugate are among the state’s top sophomores this season and led their respective teams to unexpected appearances this week in the state All “A” Classic at Eastern Kentucky University.

Both had big opening-round games Thursday as Akal scored 35 points and Fugate poured in 26, but it was Fugate who caught fire at the right time with eight points in a 10-0 run midway through the fourth quarter. Paintsville expanded a one-point lead to 11 on the way to a 67-60 victory.

“He played real well offensively in the second half. When he gets himself involved on the defensive end and rebounding, he’s much better on offense,” Paintsville coach Landon Slone said. “You also can’t say enough about Nick Keeton. He really got in there and battled. We beat a well-coached team. I’m super proud of our kids.”

Keeton, a junior forward, added 20 points and 14 rebounds.

“To me it was more about the 50-50 balls,” said Harlan coach Derrick Akal. “When the ball hit the rim, they went and got it. (Fugate) hit some shots, but you expect a kid like that to hit shots. I also thought the big kid, (Nick) Keeton hurt us, but those loose balls made a difference. We didn’t do a good enough job getting to them.”

It was the seventh straight win for the 10-8 Tigers, who upset Shelby Valley earlier this week in the 15th Region finals.

“We lost two starters but we had some good kids coming back and we played a super tough schedule early in the year at PRP and Lexington Catholic,” Slone said. “I told our guys if we could keep our morale up we’d be successful once we got back home. They kept battling and getting better every day in practice. The camaraderie on the team right now is really high through the effort they’ve given.”

Jaedyn Gist and Jon Eldridge added 12 and 10 points, respectively, for the 8-10 Dragons.

Both teams shot well early, especially Paintsville at 67 percent (10 of15) to build a 22-16 lead after one quarter. Keeton hit six of seven shots in the quarter as part of a 12-point, seven-rebound period. Gist hurt the Tigers with penetration, hitting four of five shots for eight points.

Harlan went on a 12-2 run to start the second quarter as Akal hit six free throws and a 3-pointer. A late 3-pointer by Eldridge helped the Dragons maintain a 33-31 lead at halftime.

“When you have Fugate and Jordan on the floor you are going to generate offense,” Akal said. “When it comes to tournament basketball it comes down to turnovers and those long rebounds. Their guys did a better job of going after the basketball and getting it.”

After several ties in the third quarter, Fugate and Keeton helped Paintsville take a 49-45 lead into the fourth period with baskets in a 6-3 run to close the quarter.

Paintsville will play Hazard in the tournament quarterfinals on Friday. Harlan returns to action on Jan. 31 at Bell County in a girls/boys doubleheader.

———

Paintsville 67, Harlan 60

HARLAN (8-10)

Jordan Akal 10-27 8-9 35, Kaleb McLendon 1-9 0-0 2, Jaedyn Gist 6-10 0-2 12, Johann Gist 0-1 0-0 0, Jon Eldridge 4-7 0-0 11, Jayden Ward 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 21-54 8-11 60.

PAINTSVILLE (10-8)

Braxton Tharp 3-9 3-4 9, Colby Fugate 10-24 5-8 26, Ryan Gibson 1-1 2-2 4, Baron Ratliff 3-6 0-0 8, Nick Keeton 10-14 0-2 14, Rex Castle 0-0 0-0 0, Jaxon Watts 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 27-55 10-16 67.

Harlan 16 17 12 15 — 60

Paintsville 22 9 18 18 — 67

3-point goals: Harlan 10-27 (Akal 7-15, Eldridge 2-4, McLendon 1-7, Johann Gist 0-1), Paintsville 3-14 (Ratliff 2-5, Fugate 1-7, Tharp 0-2). Rebounds: Harlan 33 (Eldridge 11, Jaedyn Gist 7, Akal 4, McLendon 3, Johann Gist 2, Ward 1, team 5), Paintsville 36 (Keeton 14, Fugate 9, Tharp 6, Ratliff 1, Gibson 1, Castle 1, team 4). Turnovers: Harlan 8, Paintsville 3. Assists: Harlan 10 (Jaedyn Gist 4), Paintsville 16 (Tharp 9). Fouled out: None.