It’s February, which means it must be time for the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets to put it together.
After struggling to a 4-14 mark going into last night’s game against visiting Harlan County, the Jackets and coach Russell Thompson hope they found themselves in their most impressive performance. Middlesboro shot a blazing 70 percent (16 of 26) in the second half to break open a tie game on the way to a 78-56 victory.
The Jackets have played their best basketball late in the season the past two years, upsetting Bell County and Harlan County in 2012 to win the 52nd District Tournament title and knocking off Bell County and Corbin in tournament play last year to make it to the 13th Region Tournament semifinals.
“It’s better late than never, but it’s not planned. I’d like to get some more wins earlier in the year,” Thompson said. “These guys have a common goal, and I keep presenting that to them every day in practice. Tonight we were able to come together. They pushed each other to do better, and they all did their jobs. It came together real nice the second half.”
Two seniors who were key players for the Jackets the past two years were sensational in the rout of Harlan County. Austin Poindexter, an athletic 6-foot-3 forward, dominated the glass as he pulled down 16 rebounds and hit 14 of 17 shots for 34 points.
“He was a little beat up off football, and he was getting frustrated early in the season,” Thompson said. “He’s been getting better lately and has been a great leader for us out on the floor. He is attacking the rim well and doesn’t quit on the boards. He and (Donnie) Foister are doing a great job leading the team.”
“One of the things we focused on was getting a body on him, because we knew how hard he would go,” Harlan County coach Mike Jones said. “We had opportunities to draw fouls by blocking out or drawing charges, but we didn’t execute.”
Despite having three starters on the bench with three fouls, the Bears held their own in the first half and pulled even at 33-33 by halftime as sophomore Cody Brewer and freshman David Turner provided a lift off the bench.
“Those kids came in and did some good things for us,” Jones said. “We just have to get the kids playing in front of them to do a little more. It has to be a team effort. It has to mean something to them. We want them to play every game like it could be their last one. They need to give that kind of effort. We didn’t do that tonight.”
Harlan County could not build on that momentum in the second half, missing 10 of 13 shots from the field as Middlesboro started to pull away behind Poindexter, Foister and Brandon Hale. Each of the three had two baskets as the Jackets built a 52-41 lead.
“They started making shots because they got more relaxed because we weren’t hitting shots,” Jones said. “We just have to compete more. I didn’t think we competed hard like they did the second half. They were more aggressive than we were. I know these kids will start making shots, but we have to compete even if we don’t. We did that the first half. We didn’t shoot well the first half, but we competed.”
Poindexter hit all five of his shots in the fourth quarter and Foister hit all three of his as the Jackets shot 90 percent (nine of 10) in the period to turn the game into a rout. Foister added 16 points and Hale contributed 11.
“We’ve started to show progress the last three weeks, but that second half showed what we are capable of, and I think we still have room to improve,” Thompson said.
Junior guard Cody Bumgardner scored 12 points to lead the Bears, despite being slowed by an ankle injury. Junior forward Zach Caldwell added 10 points.
Harlan County (8-11 overall, 2-2 district) travels to South Floyd on Tuesday. Middlesboro (5-14 overall, 1-2 district) plays host to Bell County on Friday.
HARLAN COUNTY (8-11)
Cody Bumgardner 4-10 4-6 12, Cameron Carmical 2-10 2-2 7, Treyce Spurlock 1-5 2-4 4, Zach Caldwell 3-11 3-3 10, Scotty Bailey 2-3 1-2 5, Trey Sanders 1-7 0-0 2, Cody Brewer 3-6 0-0 7, David Turner 3-3 1-1 7, William Bowling 1-1 0-0 2, Jared Sizemore 0-1 0-0 0, Malik Simmons 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-57 13-18 56.
Donnie Foister 6-15 3-4 16, Tyson Kinkade 0-1 0-0 0, Austin Poindexter 14-17 6-11 34, Major Edwards 1-5 0-0 2, Tyler Prater 1-4 3-4 5, Brandon Hale 4-6 1-2 11, Justin Miracle 2-3 1-1 6, Abhishek Singh 0-0 0-0 0, Cody Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Josh Buttery 0-0 1-2 1, Jared Gullett 0-0 0-0 0, Devin Lefevers 1-1 0-0 3. Totals: 29-52 15-24 78.
3-point goals: Harlan County 3-21 (Brewer 1-3, Caldwell 1-4, Carmical 1-7 Spurlock 0-3, Sanders 0-3, Sizemore 0-1), Middlesboro 5-12 (Hale 2-4, Miracle 1-2, Foister 1-5, Poindexter 0-1). Rebounds: Harlan 25 (Bailey 8, Caldwell 6, Spurlock 4, Brewer 4 Carmical 2, Bumgardner 1), Middlesboro 33 (Poindexter 16, Edwards 7, Kinkade 3, Prater 2, Foister 1, Hale 1, Miracle 1, Smith 1, Gullett 1). Turnovers: Harlan County 11, Middlesboro 16. Fouled out: Harlan County (Spurlock, Sanders). Technical fouls: Harlan County (Caldwell).