CORBIN — Thursday just wasn’t the Jackets’ night. Defending champion Clay County dominated Middlesboro in every way as they cruised to an 83-32 win in the first round of the 13th Region Tournament at The Arena in Corbin.
The Tigers shot 57 percent (35 of 62), forced 16 turnovers and outrebounded the Jackets 38-14. Middlesboro made just 13 of their 40 field goal attempts in the game.
“Offensively we weren’t clicking and it led to easy layups for them. Clay County has got a good team, they’re athletic and they shoot the ball well,” Middlesboro coach Russell Thompson said. “We can rely on our athleticism against a lot of the other teams in the region, but you can’t do that against Clay County. Not only are they skilled, they are athletic. It’s just a tough match-up for us from top to bottom.”
Wes Wolfe led a balanced Clay County offense with 15 points while Jake Allen added 12, Tyler McDaniel 11 and Ryan House 10.
“We played real aggressive and got a lot of transition buckets early. Anytime you can get a big win like that in the first round it’s good,” Clay County coach Robert Marcum said. “We’re going to have to play three games in five days — this thing will be over Monday. This one allowed us to rest our legs a little bit and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Junior forward Major Edwards led the Jackets with nine points. Senior forward Austin Poindexter finished with six while Donnie Foister and Tyler Prater added four each.
Middlesboro missed their first four shots and turned the ball over twice as the Tigers opened the game with a 7-0 run. McDaniel opened the scoring with a three-point play and Wolfe and Blake Smith also had baskets.
The Tigers had a chance to extend that lead, but failed to score despite grabbing five offensive rebounds on their next possession. Foister finally got the Jackets on the board with a jumper at the 4:17 mark.
Poindexter drove inside for a pair of baskets to bring Middlesoro within 12-6 with 2:09 to go in the quarter. But Clay’s press got the best of the Jackets and they reeled off 12 unanswered points to close the period. Wolfe scored four points during that run, but it was House providing the big spark off the bench. The junior converted one steal into a layup and then knocked down two 3-pointers to make it 24-6 by the end of the first.
“I was a little anxious to see how we would react to this environment. We’ve got a young team with only one senior,” Marcum said. “We went up 7-0, but five minutes in we only had a six or seven point lead. I brought House in and he’s just a hard-nosed player that plays with a lot of intensity. We fed off him and it just started rolling from there.”
Middlesboro never had a run in them to get back into the game. Clay continued to press and they continued to pull away with a combination of layups and offensive rebounds that led to baskets. Allen, McDaniel and Wolfe combined for 18 second quarter points and a 3 from Will Sexton made it 41-10 with 3:10 to play in the half.
“When we came out and our shots weren’t falling like they do sometimes, I felt like we didn’t want to compete anymore,” Thompson said. “They quit being patient and running through the offense. Once they started to hang their heads and quit playing to the best of their ability, I thought it was best to go with some of the younger guys and get them some experience in the regional tournament.”
The Jackets were done and by halftime it was 52-14 and the clock ran continuously in the second half. Clay County went to win by 51.
The Tigers (21-8) advance to Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. semifinal where they’ll meet Williamsburg (16-16). Williamsburg upset Knox Central 47-44 in Thursday’s other first round game.
Middlesboro ends the season with a record of 10-21. Thursday’s game was the final one for Foister, Poindexter, and Prater as well as fellow seniors Justin Miracle, Tyshon Kinkade and Abhishek Singh.
This was the third straight year the Jackets have qualified for the 13th Region Tournament, a feat MHS hadn’t managed since going every year from 1985 through 1991. (That 1991 team also had their season end with a 50-point loss to Clay County.)
“Making it here three years in a row is a great accomplishment for those seniors and it’s a credit to all the time and effort they’ve put into this game,” Thompson said.
After losing six seniors for the second straight year, the Jackets figure to have quite a different look season. Edwards and Brandon Hale will be returning starters while sophomores Matthew Mike, Josh Buttery, Devon Lefevers and Jared Gullett got a bit of varsity time this season.
“We’ll be young. It’s hard for a smaller to school to replace 12 players in two years. But these younger guys that have been on the team and the eighth-grade group we’ve got coming up are hungry to compete,” Thompson added. “We’ll try to get them in the weight room and do some individual workouts and get ready for team ball in the summer. I’m excited about the way those guys played as a team at the end of the game.”
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Brandon Hale 0-4 1-1 1, Donnie Foister 2-12 0-0 4, Austin Poindexter 3-6 0-0 6, Major Edwards 3-7 2-4 9, Tyler Prater 2-4 0-2 4, Justin Miracle 1-3 0-0 2, Tyshon Kinkade 0-2 2-2 2, Abhishek Singh 1-1 0-0 2, Devon Lefevers 0-0 0-0 0, Josh Buttery 1-1 0-0 2, Jared Gullett 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 13-40 5-10 32.
CLAY COUNTY (21-8)
Tyler McDaniel 5-10 1-1 11, Blake Smith 3-6 1-1 7, Wes Wolfe 7-12 0-1 15, Trey Farmer 4-8 1-3 9, Jake Allen 5-8 0-2 12, Ryan House 3-5 2-2 10, Trevor Sams 3-4 0-0 6, Will Sexton 2-2 0-0 5, Byron Allen 1-2 0-0 2, Peyton Hughes 0-2 0-0 0, Tyler Fields 2-2 0-0 4, Travis Miller 0-1 0-2 0, Dalton Hicks 0-0 0-0 0, Logan Gabbard 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 35-62 9-11 83.
3-point goals: Middlesboro 1-10 (Edwards 1-2, Miracle 0-1, Kinkade 0-1, Foister 0-6), Clay County 4-13 (House 2-4, Sexton 1-1, Farmer 1-3, Sams 0-1, Allen 0-1, McDaniel 0-3). Rebounds: Middlesboro 14 (Edwards 4, Poindexter 4), Clay County 38 (Wolfe 7, Farmer 7, Allen 7). Turnovers: Middlesboro 16, Clay County 8. Fouled out: None.