Strong finish helps Black Bears fight off Bell’s upset bid


Kim Henson

Harlan County guard Trent Noah battled with Bell County’s Dawson Woolum for a loose ball in district action Tuesday. Woolum scored 36 points in the Black Bears’ 76-65 victory.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

After watching Bell County end their season last year with a 55-54 win in the first round of the 52nd District Tournament, the Harlan County Black Bears should have had plenty of incentive to play well in their first matchup this season on Tuesday at HCHS.
It was a young Bell team, however, that won the intensity battle, at least for the first three quarters. Up by only three points with six minutes left, the Black Bears were at their best down the stretch to pull away for a 76-65 victory.
The Bears hit eight of nine shots from the field in the final period, led by three baskets from Trent Noah and two from Maddox Huff. Noah scored 36 points on a night he was honored for breaking the school’s all-time scoring record earlier this season. Huff added 16 points as the Bears improved to 5-1.
“I felt like we played well the fourth quarter, but the rest of the time it looked like we were coasting, hoping they would just go away,” Harlan County coach Kyle Jones said. “It’s a district game and they beat our guys last year. They aren’t going away. We have to have that killer mentality. They hit some tough shots, and I thought they beat us to every loose ball the first three quarters. We have to stop watching so much and rebounding more.”
Bell County put up quite.a fight as senior guard Dawson Woolum scored 26 points and sophomore Cameron Hall added 20 for the 1-3 Bobcats. Woolum is the only returning starter for a Bell squad that lost seven seniors.
The Bobcats haven’t won a game at HCHS since Dec. 17, 2010, and lost by 89-69 there last year despite winning the district championship.
“Going back to my first year when we played here in the district tournament, this is probably as good as we’ve played. I told them we aren’t into moral victories by any means and you should be upset you lost, but I don’t think there were a lot of people who thought we’d stay within 30 points of them, and that’s a credit to Harlan County’s players. We have a lot of respect for them and know how good they are,” Sizemore said. “This group I have is inexperienced, but I think we’ll get better. We have guys who can handle the ball and shoot it. We have to get a little stronger and better defensively.
“I was really proud of them. I though they played tremendous. I think Blake Burnett did an awesome job handling their pressure and Dawson took the game over at times. Cameron Hall, a sophomore who was injured last year, played great. They all battled. We were upset how we played the second half against Williamsburg and we got in a practice and came over here and responded.”
There were four ties in the opening five minutes before HCHS built an 18-15 lead on two baskets by Huff.
The Bears hit nine of 16 shots in the second quarter, led by five baskets from Noah, to go up 42-31 by halftime. Woolum hit two 3-pointers to put Bell within striking distance.
Harlan County led by as many as 14 before Hall and Burnett took over, hitting three 3-pointers each in the third quarter as Bell closed to within four, at 57-53, by the end of the period as Hall beat the buzzer with a 30-foot jumper.
Bell got as close as three on three occasions in the fourth quarter. A three-point play by Noah started the decisive 8-1 run that also featured a steal and layup by Jonah Swanner and basket by Jaycee Carter.
“We played a lot better defensively the fourth quarter, but we played a lot of man tonight,” Jones said. “We’re a work in progress. We don’t want to peak too early. As long as we’re getting district wins, I’m tickled to be 1-0.”
“They have a lot of seasoned veterans and they’re not going to beat themselves,” Sizemore said. “It will take a perfect game to beat those guys, and we know that. We’ve been in a spot with them the past two or three seasons. They have some mismatches with us in certain spots, but our guys battled and fought for the rebounds. We made some tough shots and kept making plays when we got behind. I think we’ll learn from this. I think there is a lot of room for this team to get better.”
Harlan County will play Lyon County on Saturday at 9 p.m. in the King of the Bluegrass tournament at Fairdale High School in Louisville. Bell County will play host to Garrard County on Saturday in the Pride of the Mountains Basketball Showcase.


Harlan County’s Jonah Swanner put up a shot over Bell County’s Cayden Huff on Tuesday, The Bears opened their district schedule with a 76-65 win. (Kim Henson)


Harlan County guard Maddox Huff was surrounded by Bell County defenders in Tuesday’s game. Huff scored 16 points in the Bears’ 76-65 victory. (Kim Henson)