Avoiding Bell County in the first round of the 52nd District Tournament later this month was the objective as Middlesboro traveled to Harlan on Friday. The Green Dragons needed two wins, including Sunday at Middlesboro, to take over the third seed, but they were unable to take care of business on their home court as the Jackets continued their late-season surge with an 86-76 victory.
The fast-paced game featured plenty of action, both on the court and off, as Harlan lost its highest-rated player while struggling to match the pace set by Middlesboro and its senior-dominated squad. The Jackets scored the game’s first six points, and Harlan spent the rest of the night playing catch up. The Jackets led by six after one quarter, seven at halftime and 12 after three.
“We had trouble getting started. It’s been that way the last two games,” Harlan coach David Parks said. “We dig ourselves a hole by not converting on shots and having missed defensive assignments.”
Forward Austin Poindexter, with 28 points, and guard Donnie Foister, with 15, were among the region’s top-ranked players coming into the season after helping the Jackets advance to the region semifinals a year ago. Middlesboro (7-17) got contributions from several other sources against the Dragons, including junior forward Major Edwards, who hit eight of 10 shots in scoring 16 points, and senior forward Tyshon Kinkade, who came off the bench to score 12 points, hitting all four of his shots from the field and from the free throw line.
“It was a big win for us, and we had a lot of guys step up,” Middlesboro coach Russell Thompson said. “Tyshon Kinkade had a great game, and Edwards went to war on the boards. He led us with his effort and determination. Everyone was able to follow. I was real proud of our team. We did a good job of identifying their scoring threats, and we were able to get out in transition and get some easy baskets. We played more consistent for four quarters than we have been.”
“Edwards hurt us bad,” Parks said. “He’s so strong, and we had trouble matching up with him. Foister and Poindexter are good players, and I was just hoping we could take care of the others, but we didn’t.”
Harlan (14-9) was led by a gutsy 23-point performance from sophomore guard Caleb Hogue, who scored 17 in the fourth quarter as the Dragons continued to battle.
It wasn’t from lack of effort, and I’m real proud of the fact our kids didn’t quit. They played as hard as they can play, and that’s all I can ask,” Parks said. “I want to play at that tempo (like the fourth quarter), and we’ve not played at that tempo all year. Maybe we’ll be able to do a little better tomorrow.”
Sophomore guard Drew Parks and senior center Aaron Simpson added 15 and 13 points, respectively, for the Dragons.
The Dragons fell to 0-5 in district action and will play top-seeded Bell County in the first round of the 52nd District Tournament on Feb. 24. Parks said after a loss to Harlan County that the Dragons needed two wins over Middlesboro to avoid the fourth seed but softened his stance on Saturday.
“Honestly, I don’t think there is a lot of difference in any team in this district,” Parks said. “There are nights we are pretty good. There are nights we’re not real good. There are nights when other teams play well and nights they haven’t played well at all. I don’t think it makes a whole hill of beans. I don’t know if I would want to play Middlesboro at Middlesboro. We have such a mental black with the county, I don’t know if I would want to play them. Bell is probably the best team in this district, but they aren’t that much better than anybody else in my eyes.”
“You want to get the best seed you can, but our district is up for grabs,” Thompson said. “It’s pick your poison with Harlan County and Bell County.”
The halftime drama, which reportedly took place in or near the Harlan dressing room, had the crowd buzzing in the second half and after the game. Junior forward Tyler Miller, who reportedly declined to re-enter the game in the second quarter, left the team and the gym at halftime after an apparent incident in the locker room. Miller, a starter at Harlan County last season on the Bears’ regional runner-up team, transferred to Harlan in the fall. He came into the season ranked among the region’s top 10 players but was limited to around 13 points a game with the Dragons.
“Miller is finished, as far as I know,” said Parks, who declined to expand on the incident.
The two teams meet again on Sunday at 3:30 at Middlesboro.
All 12 Dragons scored as Harlan won 52-30 in the junior varsity game. Trent McKenzie led Harlan (10-6) with 10 points, followed by Jordan Dupar with eight, Tyler Carmical with six, Andrew Saylor and Zach Hensley with five each, Brandon Osborne and Prescott Saylor with four each, Tanner Parks with three, Austin WIlson, Ethan Morton and Patrick Smallwood with two each and Brandon Huff with one.
Cody Smith led Middlesboro with 11 points. Matt Mike scored six, followed by Josh Buttery with five, Tyler Wilson with four and Devon Lefevers and Zach Raney with two each.
Bell County won 43-31 in junior varsity action Friday as Cody Carnes scored 10 and Dalton Callebs added seven for the Bobcats.
Huff and Andrew Saylor each scored seven and Dupar added six for the Dragons. Osborne contributed four. Parks chipped in with three. Prescott Saylor and Morton added two each.
Donnie Foister 7-17 1-2 15, Brandon Hale 2-4 5-6 9, Austin Poindexter 9-19 9-13 28, Major Edwards 8-10 0-2 16, Tyler Prater 0-2 0-0 0, Justin Miracle 1-4 0-0 2, Tyshon Kinkade 4-4 4-4 12. Totals: 31-60 19-27 86.
Noah Busroe 3-7 0-0 6, Caleb Hogue 10-16 2-3 23, Drew Parks 5-8 2-4 15, Tyler Miller 2-5 0-0 4, Aaron Simpson 6-12 0-0 13, Leighton Piper 4-8 1-1 9, Manny Davis 0-1 0-2 0, Jordan Dupar 3-6 0-0 6. Totals: 33-63 5-10 76.
Middlesboro 21 12 23 30 — 86
Harlan15 11 18 32 — 76
3-point goals: Middlesboro 1-11 (Foister 1-5, Hale 0-1, Miracle 0-1, Poindexter 0-4), Harlan 5-13 (Parks 3-5, Hogue 1-1, Simpson 1-6, Piper 0-1). Rebounds: Middlesboro 37, Harlan 22. Turnovers: Middlesboro 14, Harlan 11.