Sheppard, Jags break through for 13th Region title

By John Henson, Managing Editor

CORBIN — Putting the disappointment of a loss in last year’s finals behind them, North Laurel took control with 15-0 run in the first quarter and never trailed on the way to a 69-56 win over three-time defending champion Knox Central in the 13th Region Tournament finals Monday at The Corbin Arena.
Junior guard Reed Sheppard dominated with a 37-point, 11-rebound effort in earning tournament most valuable players honors and securing his first trip to the Sweet Sixteen, giving him an opportunity to play in his future home with the University of Kentucky.

“This is something we’ve been working for since the beginning of summer,” Sheppard told the Corbin Times Tribune “We just focused to get the job done. It’s been three years — a lot of people didn’t think we could do this because they’ve knocked us out every year. It’s a great feeling to get the job done. When you’re growing up, you want to go to Rupp Arena. It’s a dream come true.”
“We knew we had a really good team. We just had to go out there and make plays and relax, and I thought we did that tonight,” North Laurel coach Nate Valentine said. “We didn’t talk about last year, and we didn’t worry about what was on social media. We just focused on us. We love each other and didn’t want to let each other down. Everything we’ve done this year was to prepare us for this, and give us a chance to win, Sometimes the ball bounces your way, and tonight it did.”
North Laurel shot 50 percent from the field (25 of 50), including five-of-13 from beyond the arc. The Jaguars were a perfect 14-of-14 from the free-throw line. They were outrebounded, 37-25, but forced Knox Central into 14 turnovers.
Junior forward Ryan Davidson added 13 points and six rebounds for he 28-5 Jaguars.
Jevonte Turner led the 26-8 Panthers with 25 points, and finished with 10 rebounds. Gavin Chadwell scored 16 points and pulled down 14 rebounds.
Knox Central was 22-of-61 from the floor and only three-of-17 from 3-point range. The Panthers connected on 9-of-14 shot attempts from the free-throw line.
Sheppard caught fire early on, scoring 13 points in the first quarter. Sheppard and Davidson teamed for 13 of the Jags’ 15 points in the early run that helped North go up 21-6 after one quarter.
After both teams traded baskets to begin the second quarter, Knox Central managed to gain the momentum as Turner scored eight points during the period while Ledford added a 3-pointer.
A putback by Chadwell with 2:21 remaining in the first half cut the Panthers’ deficit to 25-20, but a 3-pointer by Davidson pushed North Laurel’s lead to 28-20.
Baskets by Brock and Chadwell made the score 30-26 but Caden Harris managed to beat the buzzer and lay the ball in for two points, giving the Jaguars a 32-26 lead at halftime.
Ledford connected with a jumper 40 seconds into the second half to make the score 32-28, but Brody Brock answered with a 3-point basket at the seven-minute mark to push the Jaguars’ lead to 35-28. North’s lead grew to 39-30 after two free throws by Sheppard and a layup by Davidson. Knox Central answered with a 6-0 run to make the score 39-36 with 4:17 remaining in the period.
But once again, North Laurel answered.
Back-to-back 3-point baskets by Brock and Chase Dotson made the score 45-36 with three minutes remaining before seeing the Panthers use a 7-2 run to close out the third quarter, making the score, 47-43.
Knox cut the deficit to 49-46 after a three-point play by senior forward Isaac Mills with 6:46 left in regulation, but that’s when North Laurel began to put the game away. Sheppard and Davidson completed three-point plays while consecutive baskets by Clay Sizemore and Sheppard put North Laurel up 61-50 with 1:57 remaining. The Jaguars sealed the game by hitting six straight free throws to secure their first region title since 2012.
(Corbin Times Tribune sports editor Les Dixon contributed to this report)
North Laurel (69) — Sheppard 37, Davidson 13, Sizemore 4, Brock 8, Harris 2, Dotson 2.
Knox Central (56) — Ledford 5, Brock 2, J. Turner 25, Mills 6, Chadwell 16, K. Turner 2.
North Laurel 21 11 15 22 — 69
Knox Central 6 20 17 13 — 56