Gist’s free throw sends Dragons past Hazard and into WYMT semifinals


Jon Dickenson

Harlan senior forward Jaedyn Gist sailed past Hazard’s Jamal Hazell for two of his 14 points in the Dragons’ 49-48 win in the WYMT Mountain Classic. Gist hit the game-winning free throw to send Harlan into a semifinal matchup Friday against Breathitt County.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

HAZARD — Harlan coach Derrick Akal likes to call Jaedyn Gist his Swiss army knife because he can do just about everything on the basketball court.
The five-year member of the HHS basketball team can post up or score off the dribble. He’s one of the best rebounders in the region. And, as Akal, points out, he can guard every position on the floor.
But even Superman had his kryptonite, and for Gist that was probably free throw shooting. With three-tenths of a second left in a 48-48 tie, a free throw was just what the Green Dragons needed from their senior forward. Gist missed the first but hit the second, sending Harlan to the WYMT Mountain Classic semifinals with a 49-48 victory on Tuesday at Perry Central High School.
“To me, his confidence should grow after stepping up there and hitting one. He’s worked on them and is shooting well in practice, so I felt good when he went up there,” Akal said. “The first one wasn’t a bad miss. It wasn’t an air ball or to the left or right. It just rolled out of there. I’m confident he can make the shots now. He just has to be as confident as I am in him.”
Free throws proved to be crucial for the 3-1 Bulldogs, and not just the one Gist hit in the final second. Hazard missed nine of 15 at the line in the game.
“If you make those foul shots, you have a chance to win,” Hazard coach Al Holland said. “You have to make them — bottom line.”
Hazard was limited to 33 percent shooting (11 of 33) through two and a half quarters as the Dragons built a 15-point lead.
“You have to give them credit,” Holland said. “They did a good job pressuring the ball and getting up in us. We didn’t adjust to it real well. We turned it up a notch in the fourth quarter, both offensively and defensively.
“I think both teams played really good defense,” Akal said. “Our offensive execution, at this point, isn’t where it should be but they continue to fight for four quarters. I thought (Hazard) got more physical in the fourth quarter. We didn’t match that initially, and they got the momentum. I didn’t expect to blow them out. When we were up 15, I told our guys they would make a run and it would come down to how we respond. We did a good job holding our composure at the end.”
The 3-0 Dragons had three in double figures with Kyler McLendon scoring 17 followed by Gist with 14 and Kaleb McLendon with 12.
Jamel Hazell and Seth Caudill each scored 15 to lead the 3-1 Bulldogs..
Harlan grabbed an early 9-2 with the help of two baskets by Kyler McLendon. Hazard fought back behind Caudill and Hazell to pull even at 11 before Will Austin scored with 1:35 left to put the Dragons up 13-11 after one quarter.
Three straight baskets by Gist pushed the Harlan lead to 22-15 midway through the second quarter. Hazard answered with seven straight points to tie the game before the McLendons each hit 3s to close the half and give the Dragons a 28-22 advantage at the break.
Harlan’s lead reached 15 at the 3:41 mark of the third quarter after consecutive baskets from Kyler McLendon. The Dragons maintained a 10-point lead, at 42-32, going into the fourth quarter and were still up by 10 after a Kaleb McLendon 3 with 6:20 left. Hazard answered with a 13-3 run over the final six minutes before Gist’s game-winning free throw. Hazell’s basket with 56 seconds left pulled the Bulldogs even for the fourth and last time of the night.
Harlan advances to a semifinal matchup Friday at 6 p.m. against Breathitt County, a 50-47 winner over Martin County in last night’s first game. Breathitt defeated Harlan in the semifinals of last year’s All “A” Classic state tournament.