Cardinals’ defense dominates in avenging loss to Harlan


Jon Dickenson

Harlan guard Kyler McLendon put up a shot in Saturday’s game at South Laurel. McLendon led the Dragons with 23 points in a 57-39 loss.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

LONDON — Facing perhaps the region’s best defensive team on the road without their most experienced player didn’t sound like a recipe for success for the Harlan Green Dragons on Saturday at South Laurel.
The Cardinals avenged an eight-point loss at Harlan to open the season with a 57-39 victory thanks to a strong defensive effort. Harlan shot 24 percent (eight of 34) from the 3-point line and 26 percent (15 of 57) overall.
“That’s a really good defensive team — physical and aggressive,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “I think that played a lot in us being unable to score.”
Senior guards Parker Payne and Eli Gover scored 16 points apiece for the 20-7 Cardinals
Harlan was led by junior guard Kyler McLendon with 23 points. Kaleb McLendon added 10 points for the Dragons, who played without senior forward Jaedyn Gist.
He hurt his shin or knee in December. We went through a stretch where we played five games in seven days, and now we’ve played four games in five days,” Akal said. “The second half of the Knox game I decided we needed to get him some rest. He’s not going to stop jumping or running fast. We just decided to sit him down to get healthy for the district tournament.”
The Dragons attempted only four free throws on a night where their outside shots weren’t falling, but Akal said the way the games are being called this year makes it difficult to draw fouls.
“It’s got to the point now you’re not going to get to the free-throw line because of this ‘let you play thing,’” Akal said. “You either will make shot or not because you aren’t going to the free-throw line. You drive and we’re not getting to the free-throw line. The most uncontested shot we can get is a wide-open 3. The closer we get to the rim the more likely we’re not going to get to the free-throw line. Kyler, all night, was aggressive and attacking the rim. Either they have really good defense or we’re not good at driving.”
Payne and Gover had three baskets each in the first quarter, part of an eight-of-13 shooting effort to give South a 19-14 lead. Payne and Josh Steele had two baskets each in the second period as the lead grew to 32-24 at halftime. Kyler McLendon carried the Harlan offense in the first half with six of the Dragons’ 10 field goals.
Harlan got as close as four early in the third quarter as Will Austin and Kyler McLendon each hit 3-pointers. Five straight points by Gover helped South take a 41-36 lead into the final period.
The Dragons hit only one of 11 shots in the fourth quarter as South slowly pulled away, outscoring the Dragons 14-3 in the final eight minutes.
Harlan closed its regular-season schedule and will now have over a week to prepare for Bell County in the opening round of the 52nd District Tournament at Middlesboro. South Laurel travels to Madison Central on Monday.
Jordan Steele scored 20 points and Max Fulmer added 12 as South Laurel won 53-47 in junior varsity action.
Connor Daniels led the 1-6 Dragons with 17 points. Nate Montanaro added 12. Dylan Cox contributed nine, followed by Jake Brewer with five and Hunter Clem with four.


South Laurel guard Parker Payne went in for two of his 16 points in the Cardinals’ win over Harlan in London. (Jon Dickenson)