Black Bears triumph over Ashland in early showdown between two of the state’s elite squads

Harlan County senior guard Trent Noah scored 36 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the Black Bears 80-70 win over visiting Ashland Blazer.
Harlan County senior guard Trent Noah scored 36 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the Black Bears’ 80-70 win over visiting Ashland Blazer.
Chris Jones
Even though it was early December it felt much more like early March on Saturday with an unusually large crowd on hand for the Harlan County Black Bears’ home opener against Ashland Blazer.
It was a matchup of two of the state’s top teams with the 18th-ranked Bears taking on the 20th-ranked Tomcats.
It was a matchup of two of the state’s top players with Harlan County senior Trent Noah ranked fourth and Ashland junior Zander Carter ranked 16th.
The game lived up to the billing with Harlan County building a 15-point lead in the second quarter before Ashland Blazer fought back to go up by two with 5:30 remaining. The Black Bears responded with 11 unanswered points on the way to an 80-70 victory.
“This was definitely a postseason-level matchup. I truly believe Harlan County is a Rupp-caliber team,” said Ashland coach Ryan Bonner, who led the Tomcats to last year’s Sweet Sixteen as the 16th Region champs for the fourth straight year. “Games like this tell you a lot about your team and give you a chance to learn and grow.”
“We knew coming in that they were a really good team that had played in the state tournament four straight years,” Harlan County coach Kyle Jones said. “I thought it was a well played game by two good teams. We’d like to see a crowd like this every game this year because this is a great group of home-grown kids.”
Noah scored 36 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead the 2-0 Bears. Junior guard Maddox Huff added 20 points, while junior center Jaycee Carter contributed 11.
The Tomcats were led by Carter, who hit 16 of 26 shots in a 39-point night.
Carter, Huff and Reggie Cottrell each had two baskets in the opening quarter while Noah pulled down six rebounds as HCHS built an 18-14 lead. The Bears’ defense was especially good early as Ashland hit only four of 12 shots in the period.
“I was real proud of our overall defense. I thought it was tremendous,” Jones said.
Cottrell had a steal and dunk in the first quarter and Noah had one in the second as the Bears took control. Carter, Johnson and Huff each hit 3s after Noah’s steal and slam as the HCHS lead reached 15, at 34-19. Ashland responded with nine straight points before Noah had consecutive baskets to give the Bears a 38-28 lead at the break.
Carter took over for the Tomcats in the third quarter, hitting eight of nine shots as part of a 10-of-14 quarter by Ashland. The Tomcats got as close as two Noah and Huff each scored to help HCHS go up 58-54 going into the final period.
Senior center Nate Frieze hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter as Ashland took its first lead since the opening quarter. Cottrell started the decisive 11-0 run on the Bears’ next possession, followed by baskets from Noah and Huff.
“I thought we played hard and showed a lot of grit to get the lead in the fourth quarter, but they really hurt us with a couple of transition baskets after we made the run,” Bonner said.
Harlan County will play Letcher Central on Monday at 6 p.m. in the first round of the WYMT Mountain Classic at Knott Central. Ashland will play host to Magoffin County on Tuesday.
Caleb Clarke poured in 33 points as Ashland won 67-35 in junior varsity action. Sam Lyons tossed in 17. Caleb Conway and Gaje Hollette scored six each. Mason Wolfe added three.
Sophomore guard Brennan Blevins led the Bears with 16 points. Landon Brock tossed in seven. Cole Cornett and Bryson Bryant scored four each. Brady Freeman and Gunnar Johnson added two each.
Harlan County 80, Ashland Blazer 70
Tyson Lalonda 2-6 0-0 5, Lander Carter 16-26 5-7 39, Braxton Jennings 3-9 0-0 9, Cameron Davis 1-1 2-2 5, Nate Frieze 2-3 0-0 6, Asher Adkins 1-3 0-0 3, Caleb Clarke 1-1 0-0 3. Totals: 26-49 7-9 70.
Maddox Huff 7-13 3-6 20, Trent Noah 12-25 10-10 36, Reggie Cottrell 3-5 0-1 6, Caleb Johnson 2-4 0-0 5, Jaycee Carter 4-6 2-4 11, Brody Napier 0-1 2-2 2. Totals: 28-54 17-23 80.

Ashland Blazer 14 14 26 16 — 70
Harlan County 18 20 20 22 — 80
3-poiint goals: Ashland Blazer 11-26 (Jennings 3-9, Frieze 2-2, Carter 2-7, Davis 1-1, Clarke 1-1, Adkins 1-2, Lalonde 1-4), Harlan County 8-17 (Huff 3-6, Noah 2-6, Johnson 1-2, Carter 1-2, Cottrell 0-1). Rebounds: Ashland Blazer 19 (Carter 8, Jennings 3, Lalonda 2, Frieze 2, Davis 2, Adkins 1, Clarke 1), Harlan County 33 (Noah 15, Johnson 6, Huff 5, Cottrell 4, Carter 2, Napier 1). Turnovers: Ashland Blazer 12, Harlan County 14. Fouled out: Ashland Blazer (Adkins).


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