Boys basketball notebook: Bears open on tear, Dragons fall to Clay

Published 3:25 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2023

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Bears open season on a tear

By John Henson 

Contributing Sports Writer

You know you’re a basketball team in trouble if the Harlan County Black Bears are your opponent and they have hit five 3-pointers in the opening four minutes, and the guy wearing No. 2 has none of them.

This was the dilemma facing Letcher Central early in the opening game of the WYMT Mountain Classic on Monday at Knott Central High School. The Cougars were focusing on the Harlan County all-stater with a box-and-chaser, but it didn’t seem to matter as the Bears came out red hot. Senior forward Caleb Johnson hit four 3-pointers in the opening period while Maddox Huff added two and Jaycee Carter one in building a 31-9 lead on the way to a 73-36 victory.

The Bears won the game in the first quarter as their pressure led to 11 Letcher turnovers. HCHS turned the mistakes into layups and open 3s as they hit 12 of 20 shots overall, including seven of 12 from behind the 3-point line.

“If they can turn you over like that, it’s very hard to play with them,” Letcher Central coach Matt Taylor said. “They had some guys step up and hit shots, especially early in the game.”

Johnson scored a career-high 19 points to lead the 3-0 Black Bears. Noah and Huff added 14 and 13 points, respectively.

“We know we’ll see some junk defenses like that, but Caleb made them pay tonight,” Harlan County coach Kyle Jones said. “I thought we moved the ball well and got after them defensively.”

The Bears didn’t come back with the same intensity in the second quarter and pushed the lead to 48-21 at the break. Reggie Cottrell had two baskets to lead Harlan County in the period.

“We talked at halftime about how the defensive effort in the first quarter was great and we wanted to get back to that,” Jones said. “I know it’s hard to keep up the same intensity when you get a big lead. I did that sometimes when I played, but we want to keep getting better and we have to be able to put people away.”

Johnson and Carter each hit 3s in a 10-1 run to open the second half. Noah had two baskets, including a steal and dunk to start a running clock at the 4:15 mark as the lead grew to 58-23. Harlan County took a 64-26 advantage after three quarters as Jones gave his starters the fourth period off.

A three-point play by Brody Napier, followed by a basket from Brady Freeman pushed the HCHS lead to 69-27 early in the fourth quarter. Cole Cornett and Mason Himes also had baskets for the Bears in the period.

Harlan County will play Martin County on Friday in the semifinals. The Cardinals advanced with a 54-48 win over Knott Central.

Bears down Tomcats in season opener

Even though it was early December, it felt much more like early March on Saturday with an unusually large crowd on hand for the Harlan County Black Bears’ home opener against Ashland Blazer.

It was a matchup of two of the state’s top teams with the 18th-ranked Bears taking on the 20th-ranked Tomcats.

It was a matchup of two of the state’s top players with Harlan County senior Trent Noah ranked fourth and Ashland junior Zander Carter ranked 16th.

The game lived up to the billing, with Harlan County building a 15-point lead in the second quarter before Ashland Blazer fought back to go up by two with 5:30 remaining. The Black Bears responded with 11 unanswered points on the way to an 80-70 victory.

Noah scored 36 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead the 2-0 Bears. Junior guard Maddox Huff added 20 points, while junior center Jaycee Carter contributed 11.

The Tomcats were led by Carter, who hit 16 of 26 shots in a 39-point night.

Carter, Huff and Reggie Cottrell each had two baskets in the opening quarter, while Noah pulled down six rebounds as HCHS built an 18-14 lead. The Bears’ defense was especially good early on as Ashland hit only four of the 12 shots in the period.

Cottrell had a steal and dunk in the first quarter and Noah had one in the second as the Bears took control. Carter, Johnson and Huff each hit 3s after Noah’s steal and slam as the HCHS lead reached 15, at 34-19. Ashland responded with nine straight points before Noah had consecutive baskets to give the Bears a 38-28 lead at the break.

Carter took over for the Tomcats in the third quarter, hitting eight of nine shots as part of a 10-of-14 quarter by Ashland. The Tomcats got as close as two. Noah and Huff each scored to help HCHS go up 58-54 going into the final period.

Senior center Nate Frieze hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter as Ashland took its first lead since the opening quarter. Cottrell started the decisive 11-0 run on the Bears’ next possession, followed by baskets from Noah and Huff.

The Black Bears defeated Jackson County 77-36 in their season-opener last Friday.

Tigers dominate in Dragons’ season opener

Staff Report

A 32-point loser last season at Harlan, the Clay County Tigers are a different team this year as they improved to 2-0 with a 74-28 victory on Friday against the visiting Green Dragons.

Hayden Harris led Clay County with 15 points. Elijah Bundy added 13.

Kyler McClendon led Harlan with 11 points, while Trent Cole finished with 10 points.

Clay County built a 26-8 lead in the first quarter. The Tigers led 48-15 at halftime and 62-23 entering the final period.

Harlan (0-1) returns to action Tuesday against Perry Central in the WYMT Mountain Classic at Knott Central.