McLendon perfect in fourth as Dragons rally past Middlesboro

Published 3:50 pm Monday, February 5, 2024

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By John Henson

Contributing Sports Writer

Staying between Kyler McLendon and the basket is one of the most difficult tasks for any defender in the 13th Region the past two seasons.

The Middlesboro Yellow Jackets saw just how tough it can be on Friday as McLendon followed a 43-point performance earlier in the year at Harlan with a 37-point outburst Friday in a 63-60 victory. McLendon was at his best down the stretch as he hit six-of-six shots in the fourth period as part of a nine-for-nine effort by the Dragons as they rallied for a 63-60 win.

“They were at the rim. He got in the lane more and didn’t settle for the jumper like he did earlier,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “The way we executed tonight was like we should have last night (a loss to Pineville), but I’m super proud of them.”

“He’s a very special player,” Middlesboro coach John Wheat said of McLendon. “Anyone that can go either hand and finish at the rim and also can get to a spot across the perimeter or the elbow for a pull-up jumper is a very special player.”

The Jackets led 39-35 heading into the fourth quarter after Harlan had hit only two of 11 shots in the third period and was outscored 11-4. McLendon started the comeback with a 3-; 3-pointer, then scored on five drives to the basket as the quarter progressed. Two baskets by Jerimah Beck pulled Middlesboro within three with 25 seconds left before Nate Montanaro and McLendon each hit two free throws to seal the victory.

“He’s so crafty when he gets by you. He’s under control,” Akal said. “He’s one of the tougher guys I’ve coached to stay in front of. As long as he’s aggressive then I think we have a chance a lot of nights.”

Trent Cole added 14 points for the Dragons, who played four games over the past five days.

The Jackets were led by Beck and Trent King with 16 points each and Cayden Grigsby with 11.

Wheat said the Jackets have made improvements on defense, especially of late. The Jackets suffered a 62-60 loss at Bell County a night earlier.

“Like I said in the earlier game our defense and rebounding would get better,” Wheat said of a 76-63 loss on Dec. 15. “I’m very proud of our defense and how everyone has bought into our defense. We’ve played several close games. At some point, we have to get lucky and get over the hump. We’re doing everything right. People can say it’s the officiating or this or that, but we have to take care of business and get over the hump and start winning.”

Harlan (6-13 overall, 2-2 district) returned to action Tuesday at home against Bell County in a girls/boys district doubleheader. Middlesboro (7-12 overall, 0-5 district) traveled to Pineville on Tuesday.

Mountain Lions get revenge on Dragons

Three weeks after a heartbreaking overtime loss in the All “A” Classic regional semifinals, Pineville gained a little payback at Harlan as Ashton Moser hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left to send the Mountain Lions to a 77-74 victory in a game that featured plenty of offensive stars on both sides.

“We had an action we wanted to try to find, but when you have good players you want to let them make plays,” Pineville coach Brad Levy said. “Ashton and Sawyer (Thompson) were in a two-man game, and we wanted one of them to finish.”

Pineville shot a blazing 67 percent (31 of 46) from the field for the game. The Lions built a nine-point halftime lead by shooting 86 percent (18 of 21) in the first half, including 92 percent (12 of 13) in the first half.

“We had some phenomenal performances. It was a great team win,” Levy said. “We had a very efficient offense, and I’m very proud of our kids. When we had to execute, we did some real good things.”

Junior forward Zander Garrison hit eight of nine shots to finish with 20 points, one behind Moser’s 21-point night. Sawyer Thompson and Wyatt Caldwell added 15 and 10 points, respectively.

Dragons were led by Kyler McLendon with 31 points. Trent Cole hit three 3-pointers and finished with 18 points, while Dylan Cox added 15 points on five 3-pointers. Nate Montanaro contributed 10 points and 10 rebounds. Harlan hit 15 of 36 from the 3-point line.

Cole hit two 3-pointers while McLendon and Cox added one each as Harlan took an 18-15 lead after one quarter despite Garrison hitting four straight shots.

Thompson heated up in the second quarter by hitting four straight shots as the Lions used a 16-4 run to take a 43-34 halftime lead. Moser hit all three of his shots.

Pineville led by nine midway through the third quarter when Harlan went on a 12-2 run sparked by McLendon to take a 60-58 lead heading into the final period.

Cox hit two 3s and Cole and Montanaro added one each as the Dragons led by four with four minutes left. Thompson pulled the Lions even with his jumper in the lane at the 2:13 mark. After McLendon and Thomas traded buckets, McLendon missed to give Pineville a chance to set up for the last shot. Thompson found Moser on the move before launching a 3 in front of the Pineville bench.

McLendon was well off the mark on a desperation 3 after a Harlan timeout with one second to play.

The Dragons lost a contest to Knott Central, 66-56, earlier in the week but did notch a 98-92 victory over defending 14th Region champion Breathitt County.