HARLAN —The Middlesboro Yellow Jackets turned a 10-point halftime deficit into a three-point lead, but Harlan was able to take control down the stretch to pull out a 70-63 upset in 52nd District action Tuesday.
“This is a great win. I think everybody grew up a lot tonight and learned a lot of things,” said Harlan assistant coach Adam Brock. “We have been right there in the last two losses we have had. This game reflects how much they gained from those games.”
Senior David Allen had six points in the first quarter as the Green Dragons jumped out to an early lead. A basket by Middlesboro’s Austin Poindexter tied the game at 10 with 1:40 left in the first, but Harlan’s Aaron Simpson drained a base-line jumper and Leighton Piper followed with a 3-pointer to put the Dragons up 15-10 after one.
Harlan closed out strong again in the second quarter. A bucket from Derek Smith cut a nine-point deficit to just two with less than three minutes left in the first half, but the Dragons finished with eight points. Dylan McNiel and Nathan Young drained back to back treys and Piper scored on a putback at the buzzer as the lead grew to 32-23 at the break.
Middlesboro appeared to take control with an impressive third quarter. The Jackets outscored Harlan 18-8 in the third. Poindexter had 12 of his game-high 24 points in the period to put Middlesboro up by one. The Jackets led by three late in the period, but Isaiah Johnson hit a pair of free throws with 20 seconds left to close the gap to 41-40.
“The way we played in the first half dug us a hole, and it was hard to overcome. We spent a lot of energy in the third quarter to eventually come back and get the lead,” said Middlesboro coach Russell Thompson.
Young gave the lead back to Harlan at the start of the fourth quarter when he drained a 3-pointer on the Dragons’ first two possessions. However, the lead was short-lived and an old fashoined 3-point play from Poindexter put the Jackets up by two at 48-46. That’s when Simpson drained another trey, as Harlan went up 49-48. The Dragons never relinquished the lead down the stretch.
“They hit some threes and got the momentum going back,” Thompson said. “Harlan is a good team. They play hard and are long and athletic. The can hit some shots. With the way the aggressively attack the rim, it is sometimes hard to defend if they hit the shots like they were hitting tonight.”
Johnson turned in 10 straight points midway through the period, to keep Harlan in front. Allen took over from that point. The senior forward had seven points in the final 1:42, including three free throws in the final 20 seconds, to thwart the Jackets’ comeback bid. Allen finished with 19 points to lead the Green Dragons.
“Isaiah played like a man tonight. He did what he was supposed to do. We told him to take it to the rack and he took it to the rack,” Brock said. “We were fully confident in David stepping up and knocking those free throws down. He stepped up for us tonight.”
Harlan (3-5 overall, 1-1 district) returns to action Friday at Buckhorn, while Middlesboro (3-2 overall, 0-2 district) will host Pineville.
Harlan (70) – Drew Parks 3, Caleb Hogue 0, Isaiah Johnson 16, Nathan Young 13, David Allen 19, Cody Logan 0, Aaron Simpson 7, Leighton Piper 7, Dylan McNiel 3, Manny Davis 2.
Middlesboro (63) – Michael Wilson 4, Donnie Foister 7, Zack Riddle 9, Derek Smith 5, Boone Bowling 6, Austin Poindexter 24, Blake Davis 0, Major Edwards 0.