Bobcats end 15-game skid against HCHS with win in district opener


John Henson

Bell County senior forward Cameron Burnett worked down the court against Harlan County’s Jonah Swanner in Friday’s game. Burnett scored 24 points in the Bobcats’ 59-56 victory. Swanner led the Bears with 18 points.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

LOG MOUNTAIN — After 15 straight losses spread out over almost seven years, the Bell County Bobcats had to suspect beating the Harlan County Black Bears wasn’t going to be as easy as they were making it look with a 14-point lead midway through the third quarter on Friday in the district opener for both teams.
The Bears battled back several times but still trailed by six with 55 seconds left when they made a final run. Two free throws by Tristan Cooper and a three-point play by Jackson Huff cut the deficit to one. Bell took three timeouts trying to get the ball in with 12.4 seconds remaining but still turned the ball over, giving HCHS a final chance. Maddox Huff, Jackson Huff and Cooper each had shots in the paint to put the Bears ahead but couldn’t convert. Dalton Stepp closed the game with a rebound and two free throws with one-tenth of a second left to seal a 59-56 win in the 13th Region Media Network Classic. It was the first win for the Bobcats over HCHS since Jan. 23, 2015.
“It’s a mental hump for them. Our guys are good enough, but we have to physically see it happen. I hope this gives us confidence, but we know it’s a dogfight every time we play them,” Bell County coach Brad Sizemore said after his Bobcats improved to 5-0 on the young season.”
The Bobcats controlled the tempo the entire night, playing at a deliberate pace on the offensive end In an effort to slow down the explosive HCHS offense. The strategy worked as the Bears struggled to build any kind of rhythm on offense,
“Overall, we probably shot a high percentage of 2s, except for the last little stretch, but I thought we settled too much,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “We didn’t play downhill like they were playing. We have to be able to do that against junk defenses because we’ll see it. They did a good job of taking Daniel (Carmical) and Jackson out of the game by not helping on them. Our other guys have to step up and make plays. We have to get to the basket. We shot 11 free throws and that’s probably 20 too few. We have to get to the basket and put pressure on defenses.”
Senior forward Cameron Burnett guarded Harlan County star Trent Noah most of the game and held him to 12 points.
“We didn’t know the last week on who was going to guard him. We made that decision this morning, and we were afraid it might affect Cameron’s offense, but he did a good job for 32 minutes on both ends of the floor,” Sizemore said. “Those kids are really skilled offensively, and you just can’t take away everything. They will make shots. We had to play almost perfect, and we basically did for this game.”
Burnett led a balanced Bell attack with 24 points. Senior guard Dalton Stepp provided a perimeter threat with three 3-pointers and 17 points. Junior guard Dawson Woolum added 14 points.
“We were on our heels defensively most of the night,” Jones said. “From the timeout at 1:53, we defended like the game was on the line. Up until that point, we were letting them catch it and do what they wanted. We weren’t playing with any urgency on the defensive end. They caught the ball too easy and beat us off the dribble too easy. We can’t wait until crunch time to decide to guard somebody.”
Jonah Swanner scored 18 and Maddox Huff added 16 to lead the 4-2 Bears.
“We know how good their guys are and we’ve been saying all week we wanted to keep the score in the 50s. We didn’t hold the ball, but we were patient and ran our stuff,” Sizemore said. “If they start running up and down the floor and shooting 3s, they can put a lot of points on the board.
“We have been talking about this game since August. We feel we can play at this level. We played really good against them in the district last year but just couldn’t get it done. I have a tremendous amount of respect for their entire program…but our kids are hungry. We basically have eight seniors who have had a lot of heartbreaking losses. They wanted to get this one tonight, and I think it was evident in how hard we played. We had several guys who stepped up on both ends of the floor.”
Maddox Huff and Stepp traded early 3-pointers as the lead changed hands four times before Woolum, Stepp and Burnett sparked a late run that put the Bobcats up 18-12 after one quarter.
The Bears found Swanner for a couple of layups and a 3-pointer in the first half of the second quarter and pulled even at 22-all on Noah’s first 3-pointer of the night. Burnett outscored Maddox Huff 6-4 over the final four minutes of the half and the Bobcats took a 28-26 lead at the break.
Woolum had three baskets and Burnett added two as the Bobcats hit six of 10 shots in the third quarter to build a 43-29 lead with 3:10 left in the period. Huff stopped the run with a 3-pointer and Swanner followed by scoring the final six points of the quarter to cut the deficit to 43-38.
Noah started to heat up in the fourth quarter, hitting a couple of shots followed by a Swanner steal and layup to pull the Bears within one with 6:50 left. The Bears had several chances to take control but struggled to finish, missing 10 of 16 shots in the quarter. Bell hit four of nine shots in the period.
Bell County travels to Knox Central on Monday. Harlan County (4-2) will open play Monday in the Seahawk Holiday Classic at Hilton Head, S.C.