Bell County may have gone 0-3 at a Christmas break tournament at Montgomery County, but the lessons learned from facing some stiff competition there were evident on Friday. The Bobcats held Harlan Count to 25-percent shooting (11 of 44) and ran their offense efficiently as they rolled to a 63-35 district win.
“We went and played in a really good tournament at Montgomery County and even though we didn’t come out on top I think the kids really improved. They got some confidence because we really competed with some of the best teams in the state up there,” Bobcat coach Lewis Morris said. “I think it made them feel like ‘We can go’ if we do things the right way as a team. It gave us some time to work on some stuff and figure some things out.”
The series has been an intense rivalry and that was evident at the start. Bell County forced four early turnovers, but hit just two of their first nine shots from the field. The score was just 4-4 five minutes in. The Bobcats got a basket from Tyler Potter, then a steal led to a Chase Woolum layup and Jake Patterson knocked down a 3-pointer to complete a quick 7-0 run and put Bell in control.
Harlan County got a 3 from Zach Wilson, but the Bobcats answered with a three-point play from Potter and Donovan Napier beat the buzzer with a deep trey to end the first quarter with Bell up 17-7.
The Bobcats stayed patient in the second period and held the Black Bears to just a Fred Massey basket and two free throws from Trey Sanders. Two baskets from Potter around a turnaround jumper in the lane from Zach Partin gave Bell a 25-11 lead at the half.
“I think Harlan County wanted to speed the game up more than what we did. I think we kind of controlled the clock and did a lot better job of executing in the half-court set,” Morris said. “We’ve been playing pretty good defense the last five or six games. As long as you can control the backboard and do a good job keeping the ball out of the post, for the most part threes aren’t usually going to beat you.”
Bell County may have played their best stretch of basketball all season in the third quarter. They hit their first six shots from the field in the second half and wound up going 9 of 11 in the third period. Meanwhile the Bears made just four shots in the quarter and the Bobcats enjoyed a 9-1 rebounding edge as they broke the game open.
Patterson scored ten of his 18 points in the third quarter, including a 3 that pushed the lead to 42-22 and a drive down the lane that gave the Bobcats a 48-22 lead going into the fourth.
Morris said his thoughts at halftime went back to that Christmas tournament.
“We were up 17-4 on Montgomery County, who’s a top ten team in the state. We were up six or seven at the half and then came out and made three or four mistakes and let them go up by six or seven. We were still in the ballgame but we continued to have lapses. We did the same thing against Boyle County, led eight to ten points most of the game and then kids broke down mentally and took bad shots, made unforced turnovers,” he said.
“At halftime we talked about coming out and adding a little bit each quarter. We don’t want to go backwards, we want to keep going up. I thought they did a good job of coming out and executing. They took the ball to the basket and didn’t settle for outside shots all night.”
Potter finished with 19 points to lead the Bobcats. Freshman Vic Morris scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter as Bell led by as many as 31 points before settling for a 28-point win.
Sanders led Harlan County with seven points while Cody Bumgardner and David Turner added five apiece.
Potter and Partin grabbed seven rebounds each to lead the Bobcats to a 34-21 edge on the glass. Patterson went 5-8 from the field, including 2-3 from long range, and hit six of seven free throws for an efficient 18 point effort.
“We’ve got some mismatches against certain teams and we did a good job of finding people (Friday) night. I thought we rebounded the ball really well, too,” Morris added. “It’s good to be home when you’re playing these district games. We had a good crowd and it was a good district win for us.”
Bell County (7-5, 2-0 in district play) will open play in the WYMT Mountain Classic on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. against Perry Central. The tournament is being played at Knott County Central High School. Harlan County (6-8, 1-1) plays at Montgomery County on Jan. 11.
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HARLAN COUNTY (35) — Cody Bumgardner 5, Cameron Carmical 2, Zach Caldwell 4, Fred Massey 2, Tryece Spurlock 0, Trey Sanders 7, Scotty Bailey 3, Zach Wilson 3, David Turner 5, Cody Brewer 0, William Bowling 4, Jared Sizemore 0, Tommy North 0.
BELL COUNTY (63) — Tyler Potter 19, Jake Patterson 18, Josh Ahser 4, Chase Woolum 4, Ben Collett 2, Zach Partin 4, Donovan Napier 3, Cody Ferguson 0, Vic Morris 7, Dalton Callebs 2, Ethan Gambrel 0, Trent Lefevers 0, Cody Carnes 0, Adam Jones 0.