Black Bears take ‘downhill’ approach in rolling past Buckhorn

By John Henson, Managing Editor

In winning 12 of their first 13 games to start the season, the Harlan County Black Bears featured a potent 3-point attack that seemed to grow in effectiveness each night and led to several blowouts.
In losing their last three, especially last weekend at Harlan, the Bears’ dependence on the 3 seemed to take away their aggressiveness and left them with few options when the shots didn’t fall.
The Bears went back to a more balanced approach on Saturday against visiting Buckhorn, attempting only 13 3-pointers while getting to the line for 30 free throws in an 83-49 victory.
“We talked all week about playing downhill,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “I don’t want to take away the 3, but we are shooting too many. We talked about getting as many paint touches as possible today, and I thought we did an excellent job of playing downhill.”
Senior guard Tyler Cole was the most effective in the attacking approach as he hit eight of 12 shots in a 24-point performance. Freshman guard Trent Noah added 10 points in limited duty due to tendinitis.
“He’s battling some tendinitis in his ankle and it is really bothering him,” Jones said. “We have to get him in and out of practices. He’s going to therapy every day to try to get it back where it needs to be. He’s a tough kid and we’ll do what we can to get him healthy.”
The Bears also received contributions off the bench from several of their younger players, led by a 10-point, eight-rebound effort from sophomore forward Tristan Cooper.
“We talked all week about getting more people opportunities, and we told them now was the chance to get something done,” Jones said. “Cooper had a great week of practice and had a great JV game. We rewarded him today. He is one of those kids who could help us and play spot minutes. He just has to keep bringing it every day in practice.”
Defense sparked the Bears after a slow start as Buckhorn, ranked fifth in the 14th Region in the preseason, missed 12 of its first 13 shots from the field.
“I told them before the game that the crowd would be like this on a Saturday afternoon. We were as flat as the crowd,” Jones said. “We haven’t played man a lot, but I thought if we didn’t come out and play man we would stay flat. I thought they did a good job of using that to get going.”
Cole had three of the Bears’ four baskets in the opening period as HCHS built a 13-4 lead.
Jonah Swanner provided a spark in the second quarter with three baskets as the Bears stretched their advantage to 42-22 at the break. Noah, Cooper and Josh Turner added two baskets each.
Christian Collins, a 6-8 junior forward who led Buckhorn with 16 points, had four baskets in the second quarter to lead the Wildcats.
Buckhorn hit six of eight shots in the third quarter, but the Bears continued to pull away, stretching their lead to 62-38 with the help of an 11-5 advantage on the boards. Cole added three more baskets.
Freshmen Jared Rhymer, Ethan Rhymer and Samuel Henson teamed for 14 points in the fourth quarter as the Bears outscored Buckhorn 19-11 despite sitting the starters for the final 6:30 of the game.
Harlan County returns to action Tuesday at home against Breathitt County. Buckhorn (6-10) plays at Floyd Central on Sunday.
Sophomore forward Tristan Cooper scored 19 points and freshman guard Caleb Johnson added 14 as Harlan County rolled to a 53-23 win in junior varsity action.
Jeremiah Clem and Bradley Halcomb added five points for the 2-3 Bears. Jared Rhymer and Samuel Henson scored four each. Ethan Rhymer chipped in with two.
Evan France led Buckhorn with five points.