Sheppard finds Davidson for game-winning 3 as North holds off Harlan in regional thriller


Les Nicholson

North Laurel forward Ryan Davidson hit the game-winning 3-pointer as the Jaguars edged Harlan 55-52 in the first round of the 13th Region Tournament on Wednesday.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

CORBIN — A future University of Kentucky Wildcat who is likely headed for a Mr. Basketball award in the spring, North Laurel guard Reed Sheppard is the all-time leading scorer in 13th Region history. But with the game on the line Wednesday in the first round of the 13th Region Tournament, Sheppard did what he does even better than shooting when given a choice in the closing seconds.
Locked in a 52-all tie against Harlan after a timeout with 9.2 seconds left, Sheppard headed for the basket after taking the inbounds pass and spotted Ryan Davidson open at the 3-point line. Despite struggling offensively to that point, North’s senior forward hit the game-winner with 3 seconds to play to send the Jaguars to a 55-52 victory.
“We run through that (play) once a week. We had three or four options and that shows what kind of teammate he is since Ryan was one for 11 before that shot,” North Laurel coach Nate Valentine said. “We want it in Reed’s hands because we know he is going to make plays.”
As the defending regional champs, North was the favorite coming into the game, but the Dragons stayed close all the way and led 32-25 at halftime after a 16-2 run and were back on top by six with 5:24 left in the fourth period. North responded with an 11-0 run to go up by five with 1:35 left. Senior forward Will Austin pulled Harlan with two 3-pointers in the final 70 seconds, pulling the Dragons even with 15 seconds left.
North missed two of three free throws in the final minute, but Sheppard came up with a huge offensive rebound after Davidson missed with one minute left, giving Brody Brock a chance to extend the lead to three when he hit one of two with 51 seconds remaining.
“I thought for the most part both teams played well defensively,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “It was a grind-it-out game. I thought we had some opportunities to make shots when they made a run, but other than that it was a tough, physical defensive game.”
North shot 35 percent (19 of 54) for the game, compared to 36 percent (21 of 58) for the Dragons. North hit five of 18 from the 3-point line, while Harlan hit eight of 30.
“It was a tough one, and I told our guys sometimes you have to go through one of these,” Valentine said. “We didn’t play particularly well, and Harlan had a lot to do with that, but we just kept fighting. Some nights the ball doesn’t go in the basket, and you have to find other ways to win.
Harlan ended one of its best seasons this century with a 24-8 mark that included a couple of nine-game winning streaks and a fourth straight All “A” Classic regional title. The Dragons were ranked No. 1 in the state in the RPI system during their hot start. The Green Dragons didn’t play as well down the stretch, but still made a seventh straight trip to the 13th Region Tournament after finishing second to Harlan County in last week’s 52nd District Tournament.
“We came here expecting to win. We didn’t come here expecting to show up and play a good game,” Akal said. “We gave up an offensive rebound after a free throw, and I thought that hurt us. We also gave up a 3 at the end, but he made it so you have to take off your hat to him. I’m proud of my guys for the season they had and how they showed up tonight and fought.”
Sheppard scored 18 and pulled down 13 rebounds and junior center Gavin Chadwell added 15 points and 12 rebounds to lead the 22-10 Jaguars, who will play South Laurel in the semifinals on Saturday afternoon.
Austin led the Dragons with 17 points. Kyler McLendon and Kaleb McLendon added 13 and 12 points, respectively.
The first round will continue on Thursday with Barbourville taking on Clay County at 6 p.m. and Harlan County playing Corbin at 7:30.

Harlan guard Kyler McLendon put up a shot in 13th Region Tournament action Wednesday. The Green Dragons fell 55-52 to end the season at 24-8. (Les Nicholson)