Fast start helps Bears clinch top seed with victory over Harlan


Jon Dickenson

Harlan County point guard Maddox Huff worked around Harlan’s Trenton Cole in Tuesday’s district clash. Huff had 22 points in the Bears’ 81-73 victory.


The Harlan County Black Bears beat Harlan at their 3-point game Tuesday, completing a regular-season sweep of the Green Dragons with an 81-73 win in front of a massive crowd at the HCHS gym.
Harlan County hit 14 of 28 from behind the 3-point line, including seven of 10 in the opening quarter to grab a 24-7 lead that put them ahead the entire night, Harlan battled back to within eight points on two occasions in the fourth quarter, but HCHS guard Trent Noah answered each time with 3s as part of a 15-point fourth quarter.
“That was the game,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “To get in a hole on their homecourt, giving up seven 3s, against a team like that is hard to get back from. You need everything to go your way. I’m happy with how we fought to get back in the game. That’s a really good basketball game. To get down 20 and then back into the game is what I will take this from game.”
“I tell them every day to take takes 3s if you’re open, but don’t take deep contested 3s,” Harlan County coach Kyle Jones said. “They took some good ones, but I reminded them at halftime that we still wanted to attack the basket.”
Noah scored 30 and Maddox Huff added 22 to lead the 21-5 Bears, who improved to 5-0 in district action and clinched the top seed in the 52nd District Tournament. Daniel Carmical added 10 points, all in the first quarter as part of the Bears’ red-hot start.
While the Bears were hitting everything, Harlan missed 12 of 15 shots in the opening quarter.
“To me, the most unpredictable thing in basketball is whether the ball goes in the hole,” Akal said. “My old coach used to tell us it’s my job to get you shots and it’s your job to make them. It’s a make or miss game. We’ll keep taking those shots and, hopefully, we’ll get another shot at them in the tournament. I take my hat off to them for competing. They did a really good job.”
Kyler McLendon hit his last five shots and led the Dragons with 25 points after a rare slow start. Jaedyn Gist added 23 points as Harlan fell to 21-5 overall and 4-2 in district action. Will Austin chipped in with 12.
“When you’re playing a team like Harlan you have to match their intensity, and that’s all we talked about,” Jones said. “You have to match their intensity on the defensive end and on the glass. If you don’t do that, you will get run out of the gym. I thought we relaxed a little in the third quarter, but we finished the game out and hit some free throws.”
After Gist and McLendon brought the Dragons back within striking distance, Noah and Huff helped the Bears hold off the comeback.
“I trust both of them to make free throws during crunch time, and we want the ball in their hands,” Jones said. “That’s what they are supposed to. They are rated among the best in the region. You have to trust them, and I do.”
Carmical hit three 3s in the opening quarter while Huff and Noah added two each as the Bears connected on eight of 13 shots overall to build a 17-point lead.
Four straight points by Noah pushed the Bears’ lead to 22. Caleb Johnson and Reggie Cottrell added 3s off the bench for a 44-21 lead with 1:26 left in the half before baskets by Gist and McLendon cut the deficit to 19 at the break.
Harlan County still led by 19 midway through the third quarter after a 3 by Huff made it 52-33. Gist and Kyler McLendon started to heat up at the point and brought the Dragons back within 10, at 59-49, going into the final period.
An Austin three-point play with 6:35 left and a McLendon 3 with 3:22 left pulled Harlan to within eight on two occasions. Noah’s 3 and subsequent steal put the Bears back in control as they put the game away at the free-throw line.
Harlan closes its regular-season schedule this week, traveling to Knott Central on Wednesday before playing host to Knox Central on Thursday and then playing at South Laurel on Saturday,. Harlan County plays host to Middlesboro in a district doubleheader on Friday.

Harlan County guard Trent Noah scored 30 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Black Bears’ win Thursday over Harlan to clinch the top seed in the 52nd District Tournament. (Jon Dickenson)