Austin provides early spark as Green Dragons defeat Hazard


Chris Jones

Harlan freshman guard Nate Montanaro drew a foul from Hazard’s Tyson Turner in Wednesday night’s game. The host Dragons pullled away in the fourth quarter for a 62-51 victory.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Harlan center Will Austin, pictured in action earlier this season, scored 15 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in the Green Dragons’ 62-51 win over Hazard on Wednesday. (Jon Dickenson)

Playing their third game in three days, including an emotional district win a night earlier over Harlan County, it probably wasn’t a surprise that the Harlan Green Dragons struggled to find their usual energy level on Wednesday against visiting Hazard.
Junior center Will Austin provided a big energy boost early, scoring the Dragons’ first nine points while pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds to provide a spark in Harlan’s 62-51 victory.
“I think he definitely played well in the first half,” Harlan coach Derrick Akal said. “We need Will to step up and make plays, especially when the other guys aren’t. It’s something we expect from him. Kyler (McLendon) made some big shots in the second half.”
Austin carried the Dragons early as he outscored Hazard 7-2 in the opening three minutes. Hazard hit only two of 10 shots in the first quarter and trailed 14-6.
Senior guard Jordan Akal overcame a slow start offensively to finish with 21 points. Jaedyn Gist added 16 points, followed by Austin with 15.
Hazard was led by junior guard Max Johnson with 14 points and senior guard Dawson Duff with 12. The Bulldogs are playing without senior forward Andrew Ford, their leading returning scorer from last season, due to a knee injury.
Duff had three baskets in the second quarter as the Bulldogs fought back from an 11-point deficit to go up by three in the final minute. Gist’s 3-pointer tied the game at 28 going into the halftime break.
The lead changed hands several times in the third quarter as Hazard stayed close thanks to two more 3-pointers from Johnson, who also hit two in the second quarter. Kyler McLendon hit two 3s in the quarter for Harlan and the Dragons led 42-41 going into the final period.
“They pushed us around a little early. We got a little more physical and started making shots,” Hazard coach Al Holland said. “Harlan has a good team though. They have some really good individual players. I was proud of our kids. This was a good game for us right before the postseason.”
Harlan turned its defensive efforts on Johnson in the fourth quarter and held him without a basket as the Dragons outscored Hazard 20-10 and outreboudned them 7-1.
“We’ve been trying to get better at keeping teams from shooting 3s,” Akal said. “They got loose a few times. We have to do a better job of putting more possessions together on the defensive end.”
Akal knew the Dragons wouldn’t be at their best with so many games in a short period of time.
“After playing four games in five days, including two district games, we’re lucky to get out of here with a win,” he said. “I didn’t think we had energy to start the game or energy during the game. We’re lucky.”
Harlan (19-9) closes its regular-season schedule Monday at home against Red Bird. Hazard (16-8) will travel to Estill County on Friday.
Darius Akal hit two free throws with 10 seconds remaining to send Harlan to a 41-40 junior varsity win.
Conner Daniels led the 1-3 Dragons with 16 points. Trenton Cole added nine, followed by Tristan Burgan with five, Matthew Pennington with four, Akal with three and Nate Montanaro and Derek Pruitt with two each.
Clint Davidson led Hazard with 15 points.