Boys basketball notebook: Bears, Dragons compete in holiday tourneys

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 26, 2023

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Bears go 3-1 in King of Bluegrass

Staff Report

Harlan County will play at least seven of the 16 teams in last year’s Sweet Sixteen in what could very well be the toughest schedule ever for a county team.

The Bears knocked off 16th Region champ Ashland Blazer in the season’s opening week, then defeated 15th Region champ Martin County in the WYMT Mountain Classic semifinals. They closed play Saturday in the King of the Bluegrass tourney with an 80-74 victory over defending 7th Region champ Male to capture the consolation bracket title, finishing 3-1 in tournament play and improving to 10-1 overall.

Trent Noah was one of four Bears in double figures with 24 points. Maddox Huff added 22, followed by Jaycee Carter with 14 and Reggie Cottrell with 13.

The 7-4 Bulldogs were led by sophomore guard Cole Edelen, who scored 32 points. Jordan Mitchell added 12 points.

HCHS got off to a red-hot start, building a 30-13 lead after one quarter as Huff hit three 3-pointers and one basket. Noah, Johnson, Carter and Cottrell each had two baskets in the period.

Male cut the deficit to 38-31 by halftime, but the Bears heated up again in the third quarter as Noah scored 11 points and Cottrell added six to push the lead to 64-51.

Noah had eight points in the fourth quarter as the Bears held off the Bulldogs’ final comeback attempt.

HCHS was defeated in the opening round, 73-62, by Bowling Green (7-3) but rebounded to defeat Butler County (5-4) and De La Salle (Il.) by scores of 93-74 and 63-59, respectively.

Harlan County played in the Arby’s Classic on Tuesday in Bristol, Tn.

Dragons build 23-point lead before watching it slip away in loss to Mason

By John HensonContributing Writer

In a rebuilding 2023-2024 season, the Harlan Green Dragons and coach Derrick Akal know there will be plenty of learning experiences before the postseason begins in late February. A matchup against Mason County on Thursday afternoon in the second day of play at the Dribble Drive Challenge at South Laurel provided an especially painful lesson on protecting a lead.

The Green Dragons played as well as they have all season through two and a half quarters, building a 54-31 lead on a three-point play by senior forward Matthew Pennington with 5:46 left in the third quarter. A flurry of turnovers and bad shots by the Dragons and improved shooting by the Royals led a perfect storm for a big comeback as Mason closed the period with a 26-4 run to pull within one, then stretched the spurt to 33-6 into the fourth quarter on the way to a 75-70 victory.

“We missed shots, but we didn’t get stops either. If you’re not making shots, you better get some stops. They started hitting some tough shots also,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “We turned the ball over some also, so it was a combination of things. We probably took a few shots we shouldn’t have taken early. Taking those shots and missing them got them out in transition.”

Senior guard Braylon Hamilton came off the bench to lead the 6-2 Royals with 16 points, sparking the second-half run as he hit five of six shots during the comeback. Landon Scilley and Jake Feldhaus added 13 and 11 points, respectively.

McLendon scored 34 and freshman guard Trent Cole added 18 to lead the 1-5 Green Dragons.

The Dragons hit six 3-pointers in the opening quarter, including three by McLendon, to take a 22-19 lead. McLendon had five of Harlan’s seven baskets in the second quarter as the lead grew to 42-29 at halftime as Mason hit only three of 11 shots and turned the ball over five times.

McLendon hit two 3s, Cole added one and Pennington had a three-point play in a 12-2 run to start the second half, but the Dragons had only two baskets the remainder of the quarter.

“The key for us is getting better every night, and I thought we played better tonight than we did last night,” Akal said. “We’ll learn how to win. We have three guys who just came out a week ago, so I think we’ll improve on some things over the next few games.”

Harlan lost to Greenwood on Friday, 77-61, in the seventh-place game of the tournament and lost to Corbin, 64-44, in the first round last Wednesday.

Dragons struggle offensively in loss at Dribble Drive Challenge

Harlan senior guard Kyler McLendon is undoubtedly one of the 13th Region’s elite players. It’s clear, however, that McLendon’s going to need some more help from his teammates if the Green Dragons are going to beat the region’s top teams.

McLendon poured in 29 points in last Wednesday in the opening round of the Dribble Drive Challenge at South Laurel, but it wasn’t enough to match the balanced Corbin attack as the Hounds won 64-44. Senior forward Trey Worley scored 22 points to lead the Hounds, followed by Eli Pietrowski with 13 points, Zander Curry with nine and Carter Stewart with eight.

“We’ve got to do a better job of getting those guys involved,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “Kyler’s points are fool’s gold because we’re 1-4 with those points. We’ve got get some other guys contributing.”

Harlan struggled offensively much of the night, shooting 29 percent (16 of 56) from the field.

“You can’t shoot that bad against one of the best teams in the region,” Akal said. “We are always confident we can get the shots off we work on in practice, but they just have to go in.”

Corbin also owned a big advantage on the boards, outrebounding Harlan 42-24, leading to a 27-7 advantage in free throw attempts.

“We’ve struggled on the boards the last few games. We’ve got some new guys in there who are still learning what they need to do,” Akal said. “Corbin turned a lot of those second shots into points.”

Corbin scored the game’s first eight points, but Harlan fought back to cut the deficit to 16-12 by the end of the period despite hitting only four of 17 shots.

McLendon heated up in the second quarter with three 3-pointers, reeling off eight straight points at one point as the Dragons took a 28-23 lead. Corbin recovered as Curry and Connor Blackburn each hit 3-pointers in an 11-0 run to close the half to give the Hounds a 34-28 lead at the half.

Harlan missed its first five shots in the second half as the Hounds built an 11-point lead. McLendon had all three of Harlan’s baskets in the quarter as Corbin took a 46-38 lead into the final period.

McLendon had all three Harlan baskets in the fourth period as the Hounds continued to pull away, closing with a 16-2 run after the Dragons cut the deficit to six with six minutes to play.