Bell County shot the lights out early to open up a double-digit lead, Middlesboro pushed the pace even more than usual to try and get back into it and the result was 97-76 Bobcat win and a stat sheet that resembled one from a college game.
Bell finished up hitting 33 of 59 shots from the field (56-percent), including 9-of-10 from 3-point range. The Bobcats went 22-33 from the free throw line and out-rebounded the Jackets 41-32.
“Credit to them. They came in here and shot the ball extemely well,” said Jacket coach Russell Thompson. “Obviously we’ve got to do a better job closing out and challenging their shot. But they shot the 15-foot jumper consistently and the 3 consistently. They were focused and ready to play at that level tonight.”
Middlesboro didn’t have a bad offensive night, but they just weren’t able to match Bell’s torrid pace. The Jackets connected on 27 of 59 shots (46-percent) and were 5-of-15 from long distance. MHS was 17-of-32 from the charity stripe and turned the ball over 15 times to the Bobcats’ 13.
Junior guard Tyler Potter led the charge for Bell County as he poured in 34 points and hit five of six 3-pointers on the night. Junior forward Josh Asher hit all four of his 3-point attempts and finished with 18 points while Cody Ferguson added 15 points and Peyton Collett eight off the bench.
“When you’re playing a team that’s pressuring you, you can’t set back. You have to attack it and they did a good job,” said Bobcat coach Lewis Morris. “When you hit shots, it makes your whole team look better and kids play harder. We’ve been playing really hard and I’m proud of them for continuing to work hard and have a good attitude to try to improve.”
Middlesboro was led by Donnie Foister’s 26 points. Austin Poindexter added 19 and Derek Smith 13.
Senior center Boone Bowling scored the game’s first points to give the Jackets a quick 2-0 lead, but Potter and Asher both hit 3s to make it 6-2 by the 6:40 mark.
Middlesboro got a three-point play from Zack Riddle and a little jumper from Smith to get the lead back at 7-6. Asher answered with a 3 on the other end and the Jackets would never lead again. Baskets from Foister and Smith tied it up at 11 with 3:40 left in the first, but Potter knocked down two more treys to make it 17-13 Bell by the 2:00 mark.
“We did a good job when we got the ball down low. What hurt us in the first half was when we rushed shots and weren’t patient with the ball,” Thompson added.
A three-point play from Peyton Collett, a putback from Tan Hudson and a steal and layup from Potter put the Bobcats in control at 24-13 by the end of the first quarter.
Bell continued to pull away in the second period as a 3 from Potter pushed the lead to 30-15 by the 6:50 mark. Chase Woolum hit a pair of free throws and Potter followed them up with a steal and layup to make it 39-19 with 5:25 remaining in the half.
“We’ve had some games this year where we’ve gotten off to a good start and then not continued to stay emotionally in the game and had letdowns,” Morris added. “For the most part we did a pretty good job. We didn’t always execute, but they stayed in there and kept battling.”
The Jackets got as close as 13 after a steal and layup by Foister at the 2:07 mark cut the deficit to 46-33. But the Bobcats scored the final six points of the half — a basket and two free throws from Ferguson and a putback by Zach Partin — as they took a 52-33 lead into the break.
Bell led by as man as 21 in the third quarter as a basket from Ferguson made it 62-41 with about 2:30 to play in the period. The lead was 74-56 after three.
“We kept waiting to make that big run and get it under ten and it just wasn’t there for us tonight,” said Thompson. “And we were limited defensively by that point. We had to trap and play a full court game. They continued to knock down open shots and make their free throws plus they didn’t turn the ball over too much.”
Middlesboro got 3s from Foister and Michael Wilson to open the fourth quarter to get withing 12 points. But Potter hit both ends of the bonus and hit his fifth 3-pointer with just under six minutes to play and the lead was back to 79-62.
“Tyler is a competitor, he’s not going to shoot the ball great every night but most of the time he’s going to shoot it pretty good. He’s gotten better at taking it to the basket and handling the ball a little bit more,” Morris said. “Josh Asher is probably our leading percentage shooter (from 3-point range), he’s just not took that many. Tonight he got good looks and knocked them down and that made a big difference for us.”
The Jackets got as close as 12 on three other occasions — once after a Smith layup off a steal, again after a 3 from Foister, and finally on a 3 from Blake Davis that made it 88-76 with 3:15 remaining.
“I was glad the kids kept working hard, that shows good character on their part,” Thompson added. “We’ve got room to improve, we’ve got to have better guard play and better rotation defensively from our bigs to challenge shots.”
From there MHS missed a pair of threes and a pair of free throws as the Bobcats scored the final nine points to win by 21. Ben Collett hit two free throws with 58.8 seconds left to set the final score. Bell came away with a steal but let the final 45 seconds run off despite some strong encouragement from their student section to go for 100-points.
“We’ve just got to keep working, it’s early in the year and hopefully each game we’ll continue to grow,” said Morris.
Middlesboro (8-6, 0-3 in district play) visits Corbin on Tuesday while Bell County (5-8, 2-1) will host South Laurel next Friday.
— — —
Bell County…. 24…28…22…23 — 97
Middlesboro…13…20…23…20 — 76
BELL COUNTY (97): Tyler Potter 34, Josh Asher 18, Cody Ferguson 15, Peyton Collett 8, Chase Woolum 6, Ben Collett 5, Jake Patterson 4, Zach Partin 4, Tan Hudson 3.
MIDDLESBORO (76): Donnie Foister 26, Austin Poindexter 19, Derek Smith 13, Boone Bowling 6, Zack Riddle 5, Michael Wilson 4, Blake Davis 3, Major Edwards 0, Brandon Hale 0.