Dragons run out of steam in second half, fall to Dixie Heights


John Henson

Harlan guard Kyler McLendon worked against the Dixie Heights defense in action from the Legacy Nissan Dribble Drive Challenge at South Laurel.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

LONDON — Taking on one of the top teams in northern Kentucky in the first round of the Legacy Nissan Dribble Drive Challenge on Tuesday at South Laurel, the Harlan Green Dragons were the aggressor in the first half. Harlan owned a 26-10 advantage on the boards and built a 12-point halftime lead with basically the same five on the floor the entire time.
The Dragons led by 15 early in the same quarter before appearing to hit a wall just as Dixie Heights found a rhythm. The Colonels closed the third quarter with a 22-3 run, then extended that surge to 34-5 midway through the fourth quarter on the way to a 72-66 victory.
“Probably,” said Harlan coach Derrick Akal when asked if his team was tired in the second half. “I have to do a better job of trusting some of our other guys and let them give us some minutes. That was our Achilles last year.
“We’ve played several physical games, and we’ve really not practiced much with the holiday tournaments this time of year. When you play and rebound as hard as we did the first half, you do get tired.”
Senior guards Keirnan Geraci and Jay Flynn scored 22 and 18 points, respectively, to lead the 6-1 Colonels, and combined on six baskets in the third quarter as Dixie Heights hit nine of 12 shots.
“I’ve not had a problem with our rebounding or our intensity,” Akal said. “Our execution has been our problem the last few games. We also let a couple of their guys get loose. They made some big shots. We also turned it over a few times.”
Junior forward Jaedyn Gist scored 22 points to lead the 3-4. Dragons. Senior guard Jordan Akal added 20 points despite missing several minutes in the second due to foul problems. Kaleb McLendon contributed 14 points.
After five ties in the opening five minutes, Harlan reeled off eight straight points with the help of 3-pointers by Akal and Kaleb McLendon for a 21-16 lead after one quarter.
The Dragons’ lead grew to double digits in the second quarter with Gist and Will Austin teaming for nine rebounds and Gist and Akal teaming for four baskets. Kyler McLendon’s putback in the closing seconds gave Harlan a 41-29 halftime advantage.
Harlan will play Rockcastle County at 2:15 p.m. and Rowan County at 4 p.m. in tournament action Wednesday.