Bears ride 31-point, 22-rebound night from Noah to defeat Harlan


Jon Dickenson

Harlan County junior guard Trent Noah finished with 31 points and 22 rebounds to lead the Bears in a 68-62 win Thursday at Harlan.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

When they won every game over the first 12 years of the series against Harlan, the Harlan County Black Bears were almost always the more physical team.
When Harlan turned the tables with three wins out of four over the past two years, it was the Green Dragons who became the tougher and more aggressive squad.
In their first meeting of the 2023 season on Thursday, in front of what may have been the largest crowd to ever see a game at Harlan High School, the Bears and star junior guard Trent Noah were the ones kicking the sand. Noah scored 31 points and pulled down what may have been a school record with 22 rebounds as HCHS took the lead in the race for the 52nd District’s top seed with a 68-62 victory.
“We told them we had to at least play even with them on the boards,” Harlan County coach Kyle Jones said. “I just felt our effort was tremendous. Harlan has a great team. They are very well coached and I have a lot of respect for their team.”
“They just bullied us,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “The fact is they just played harder and played tougher on the boards. You can tell in the stats where toughness comes in. They went and got it and put it back in. When we missed, they went and got it. They were the tougher team tonight.”
Jones had emphasized the importance of rebounding preparing for the game as the Dragons had destroyed most opponents on the offensive glass in their fast start this season. Harlan County won the rebounding battle 40-30 with Noah out rebounding the entire squad 14-12 in the first half as he posted a double-double by halftime.
“He knows he has to be a man in games like this and he was definitely a man in this game,” Jones said. “Trent showed the level of talent he’s got tonight.”
Jonah Swanner and Maddox Huff added 14 and 11 points, respectively, as the Bears improved to 19-4 overall and 4-0 in district action.
Junior guard Kyler McLendon scored 22 points, while senior forwards Will Austin and Jaedyn Gist added 19 and 17 points, respectively, for the 20-4 Dragons, who lost for the first time in five district games,.
Harlan had won the last three games at home against the Bears.
“I think a lot of people were doubting we could win down here,” Jones said. “This is a tough place to play. I’m just really proud of them. I thought the effort was great.”
The lead changed eight times in a crazy first quarter as both teams traded big shots. McLendon led the Dragons with three baskets while Noah had three and Huff added two for the Bears, Harlan led 17-15 after the first quarter.
A McLendon three-point play gave the Dragons a three-point lead with 3:24 left in the half, just before Harlan County went on the first extended run of the game. Noah and Swanner each had two baskets before Swanner capped a 13-2 run with a 3-pointer to end the half and extend the Bears’ lead to 37-29.
“Swanner made two huge shots, and I have confidence in him, but I can’t say enough about his defense,” Jones said. “He guards the best player on the floor, whoever we play. He was tremendous.”
Harlan County went away from its matchup zone to a man as Harlan hit only five of 16 shots in the second quarter and four of 17 in the third as HCHS stayed in control despite recording only one field in the third quarter. Noah, Huff and Swanner all converted at the line as the Bears took a 48-39 lead into the final period.
With Kyler and Kaleb McLendon both in foul trouble, Gist took over the Harlan offense as he hit six of nine shots in the fourth quarter. A Gist dunk and a Matthew Pennington free throw cut the HCHS lead to 58-55 with 2:32 left.
Swanner, Noah and Huff each hit two free throws to extend the lead back to 10 with 52 seconds left and all but clinched the victory. McLendon had two baskets and Gist added one as the Dragons closed the game with a 7-3 run.
The loss was the second in three games for the Dragons, who fell last week in the first round of the state All “A” Classic and struggled in a three-point win Tuesday at Bell County.
“I’ve talked about the All A hangover before,” Akal said. “When you put so much energy into making the All ‘A” state and you get down there and get beat in any round it’s always tough to come back and do it again. That’s not an excuse though. We have five more games to get better and get some things right. This was a fans’ game, but as a player you have to stay focused on each team.”
Harlan County will play host to another state power on Friday as Pulaski County, the top team in the 12th Region, will be at HCHS. Harlan will play host to Clay County on Saturday.