BAXTER — Mike Jones’ Black Bears more closely resembled the team that started the season with 11 straight wins, than they did the group that has dropped four games in last month in a 77-46 rout of Middlesboro on Monday. The demanding Harlan County coach will still need to see more from his team, however, before he is ready to say they are back to their old form.
“I might say that if it continues. We have to get better. There are some things that we focused on that they did well tonight, and there are some things that we need to correct,” said Jones. “We saw some positives tonight of some things that we have really been working on in practice, but we have to get more consistent.”
A balanced offensive attack propelled Harlan County to a double-digit lead in the first quarter. Forwards Aaron Caldwell and Tyler Miller led the way with four points each in the opening period. The game was tied at four, when back-to-back 3-pointers from Miller and Alex Sergent started a 13-2 run to close the quarter.
Middlesboro hung around in the second quarter, as the Bears were only to able to extend their lead by one. A three-point play from Middlesboro senior Zack Riddle reduced Harlan County’s lead to five late in the period. However, Sergent reeled off five straight points to close the half and put the Bears up 33-21 at the break.
Sergent remained hot in the third quarter as Harlan County continued to pull away. The senior guard turned in nine of his 22 points in the period as the lead ballooned to 55-33.
“It seems like every time we get into a competitive game that Sergent has been able to step up and hit some big shots against us this year. Credit him for all the work he has put in,” said Thompson.
The lead was at 17 late in the period, when Zach Caldwell had two straight baskets and James Bond followed with four straight free throws to close out the quarter.
Harlan County went deep into the bench in the fourth quarter, and the subs responded by expanding the lead to 31. The Bears received solid contributions from the reserves throughout the night, with 21 points coming off of the bench.
“Our bench has played well the last couple of games. They were doing that the first of the year. So, we are getting back to where our bench is coming in to help us,” Jones said.
The teams combined to shoot 71 free throws in a closely called contest.
“We let the physicalness get in our head adn take us out of our game plan. It was foulfest 2013 on both sides there,” Thompson said. “They made it an ugly game and their bench had better depth than what we had tonight. They were able to pull away from us there.”
The Yellow Jackets were without junior guard Donnie Foister, who is out with a foot injury.
“This is the first game we have played without him in a couple of years. We were really struggling to find someone to get it to the basket for us. That is something that Donnie has been able to do,” Thompson said. “We missed him tonight.”
Harlan County (18-4) returns to action Thursday at home against Harlan, while Middlesboro (13-9) will travel to Bell County on Friday.
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Harlan County (77) — Tyler Brewer 9, Alex Sergent 22, Chad Massingill 7, Aaron Caldwell 10, Tyler Miller 7, Zach Caldwell 8, James Bond 6, Cody Bumgardner 4, Fred Massey 3, Zack Wilson 0, Trey Sanders 0, Josh Lee 1.
Middlesboro (46) —Michael Wilson 5, Derek Smith 5, Austin Poindexter 3, Zack Riddle 11, Boone Bowling 5, Major Edwards 3, Blake Davis 8, Seth Barton 3, Brandon Hale 3, Matthew Mike 0, Abhishek Singh 0, Devon Williams 0.