Top-ranked Jags stay perfect with victory at HCHS

Harlan+County+guard+Daniel+Carmical+split+the+North+Laurel+defense+during+Tuesday%27s+clash+with+the+top-ranked+Jaguars.+North+took+control+in+the+second+quarter+on+the+way+to+a+96-75+victory.

Chris Jones

Harlan County guard Daniel Carmical split the North Laurel defense during Tuesday’s clash with the top-ranked Jaguars. North took control in the second quarter on the way to a 96-75 victory.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

If there were any doubts before about the 13th Region favorite midway through the season, the North Laurel Jaguars put them to rest Tuesday in a 96-75 victory at Harlan County.
North Laurel, No. 1 statewide in the RPI rankings, put on a basketball clinic by shooting 66 percent (37 of 56) from the field and placing four in double figures, led by sophomore forward Ryan Davidson with 30 points on 13-of-17 shooting. Sophomore guard Reed Sheppard, one of the state’s top players, contributed 18 points and 17 assists. Clay Sizemore and Brady Brock provided a perimeter threat with 19 and 14 points, respectively.
“We have a lot of unselfish guys, and they don’t care who scores,” North Laurel coach Nate Valentine said of his 13-0 Jaguars. “Reed Sheppard gets a ton of attention and tonight he had 18 points and 17 assists, then Ryan Davidson scores 30. I think we caught Harlan County coming off a tough week in the WYMT (Mountain Classic). They didn’t have their legs. You could tell from the beginning. We are happy to get out of here with a win.”
“When you have a player with Sheppard’s capablities, then surround him with shooters and have Davidson inside, you can’t lose focus defensively like we did in the first half,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “I didn’t think we guarded well. We didn’t know when people were behind us or when someone was in the middle and left shooters open we weren’t supposed to leave open. You can’t do that against a team like North.”
Harlan County stayed within striking distance in the opening quarter, led by three baskets from senior guard Tyler Cole, and trailed 23-16 even though North hit nine of 15 shots from the field. Davidson and Sheppard each had three baskets in the period.
North blew the game open in a second quarter that saw them hit 14 of 19 shots, most coming off bullet passes from Sheppard, as the lead grew to 58-34 at the break. Davidson had five baskets in the quarter while Sizemore hit three straight 3-pointers and Brock connected on three straight shots inside the line
“We did a nice job of finding openings in their zone, plus Reed is such a good passer,” Valentine said. “He would rather throw to these guys and watch them hit a 3 or a layup.”
Harlan County didn’t quit in the second half and outscored the Jaguars 21-19 in the third period, led by four baskets from Cole and two 3-pointers from Noah. Cole led the Bears with 26 points, while Noah added 21.
“We had an interesting halftime talk and I told them I didn’t want to hear any excuses about playing a tough game last night,” Jones said. “If we can’t get fired up for the No. 1 team in the state playing in our house we don’t need to be playing anyway. We responded and played harder the second half. We just dug ourselves too big of a hole the first half.”
Harlan County (12-3) will return to action Friday at Harlan. North Laurel will travel to South Laurel on Saturday.