Bears take down another defending regional champ by edging West Jessamine


John Henson

Harlan County senior guard Tyler Cole drove around West Jessamine’s Jackson Green in Friday’s game. Cole scored 20 points in the Bears’ 69-67 win.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Harlan County guard Trent Noah worked around a pick from Josh Turner in Friday’s game at West Jessamine. Noah scored 30 points, including the game-winning free throws, as the Bears won 69-67 to improve to 7-0 on the season. (John Henson)



NICHOLASVILLE — In a season delayed a month by the coronavirus and still in question due to possible outbreaks, Harlan County coach Michael Jones is going to extreme measures to make his team as mentally tough as possible going into the postseason.
The Black Bears have played six road games in six different regions and will take a 7-0 mark into their seventh road game on Saturday at Scott High School after a hard-fought 69-67 win Friday at West Jessamine. It was the Bears’ second win over a defending regional champion, following a victory earlier in the month at defending 15th Region champ Martin County. The Colts, who fell to 3-3, were the preseason favorites in the 12th Region.
“We knew when we scheduled this game we had a great challenge ahead of us,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “Our kids stepped up to the challenge. I’m awfully proud of them and the way they played. To beat a team favored to win their region on their home floor is big. I can’t say enough about how resilient this group is.”
The Bears looked to be in trouble in the first half as West Jessamine led by as many as 12 and was on top 43-32 at halftime. The Colts shot 61 percent (17 of 28) in the first half and 67 percent (eight of 12) from behind the 3-point line.
“I was very disappointed the way we were moving the first half defensively,” Jones said. “We had some guys who weren’t guarding. There were some feelings hurt at halftime, but you have to give West Jessamine credit. They have all these players back from a regional championship team. They shot the lights out the first half. Our effort on defense was much better the second half. We still made some mistakes and left some guys open, but we did just enough.”
Freshman guard Trent Noah, who led the Bears with 30 points, and senior guard Tyler Cole, who added 20, took over in the second half, teaming to hit seven of 12 shots in the third quarter as HCHS outscored West 24-12 to go up by one.
The lead changed hands several times in the fourth quarter as Noah and West’s Daniel Waters, who finished with 22 points, took turns hitting big shots. Noah hit one of two at the line with 1:12 to play to tie the game at 67. West appeared to be holding for the last shot when DeAjuan Stepp, who scored 17 points, was called for an offensive foul as he drove to the basket. Stepp appeared to lose track of the score as he reached out to foul Noah with 1.8 seconds left as he drove past halfcourt. Noah hit both shots, then Cole knocked away a long inbounds pass to seal the victory.
“That was a tough way to lose, but D is a kid who has played a lot of basketball and this is the first time I’ve seen him not realize the situation,” West Jessamine coach Damon Kelley said, “He thought we were down. He had just been called for an offensive foul. If I had to it again, I’d call a timeout to settle us down, but I trusted us to play. I think he just didn’t remember where we were at this point.”
Noah hit three of four shots in the fourth quarter while Cole added a 3-pointer.
“He’s tough and is going to be a load the next four years,” Kelly said of Noah. “(Cole) hit some deep 3s and is very good off the dribble. They have a nice ballclub. I think we have a nice ballclub. I wouldn’t mind seeing them again the first week of April at Rupp. It would be a good matchup for both of us.”
“(Noah) was calling the offense and wanted the ball. We want him and (Tyler) Cole to be aggressive like that,” Jones said. “We need that out of him. He’s hard to guard.”
West hit five of seven 3-pointers in the opening quarter, led by Waters with two, to build a 19-14 lead. Noah led the Bears with two baskets.
The Colts led by as many as seven points before baskets by Jonah Swanner and Josh Turner and a 3-pointer by Maddox Huff cut the deficit to two, but a 3 by Drew Marshall just before the buzzer pushed the lead to five.
Cole had two baskets early in the second quarter to get the Bears within one on both occasions, but HC couldn’t keep up with the offensive pace set by West. The Colts hit 10 of 14 shots in the period and built an 11-point advantage at the break.
“These are the games that will make us better when we get in the postseason,” Kelley said. “We were awfully good offensively in the first half, but not very good in the third quarter. Harlan County was equally impressive in the second half, shooting the lights out. I thought we hurt ourselves in the third quarter by missing some easy shots. If we convert on those it might put some doubt in their minds about whether they can guard us. They started chipping away at us. I was disappointed in our defensive rebounding in the second half, but that’s not to take anything away from Harlan County. They have a nice ballclub. I think we do too. We just aren’t able to play 32 minutes of good basketball yet. We need to play good teams and see what we need to improve on.”
Harlan County wiil play at Scott on Saturday in a 1 p.m. game. West Jessamine will play host to Burgin on Saturday.