FRANKFORT — An off shooting night spoiled a strong defensive effort for the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets Thursday as they lost to Owen County, 46-38, in the first round of the Kentucky All “A” Tournament.
Middlesboro held the Rebels to 14-of-34 shooting (41 percent) and forced 19 turnovers, but the Jackets managed to hit on just 14 of their 51 shots from the field (including 1-of 13 from 3-point range) and went just 9-of-18 from the free throw line in the loss.
“I just finished talking to them about that and they understand that no matter how good you are defensively — and I thought we were pretty solid defensively throughout the whole ballgame — if you don’t shoot the ball or score more consistently than that, you’re going to have a hard time winning in the tournament,” said Jacket coach Russell Thompson. “Our guys were willing to fight for the win and they played hard for our school and our team. We just missed some shots we usually can hit, that’s the bottom line. I’m proud of them.”
The game was a defensive struggle for most of the night. Middlesboro jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first two minutes on a basket from Boone Bowling and a free throw by Zach Riddle. Hunter Trenary got Owen County on the board with a 3-pointer at the 5:42 mark.
It was tied at five and then seven after a putback by Austin Poindexter with just under 3:00 left in the first quarter. But the Jackets missed their last five shots of the first quarter and their first four of the second as the Rebels took control with an 11-0 run. Senior guard Zach Ripy opened the spurt with a 3-pointer and freshman forward Carson Williams scored four points, including a basket inside with 4:42 left in the half for an 18-7 lead.
Middlesboro junior guard Donnie Foister broke the Jackets’ 6:32 scoring drought with a pair of free throws and then hit a 3-pointer at the 3:17 mark to make it 18-12. Middlesboro never really found an offensive rhythm in the first half and managed just a pair of Michael Wilson free throws the rest of the way and trailed 22-14 at the break.
“We’ve got to get better executing the halfcourt as a team. We’re good in transition and it seems like when we get one shot to fall there’s more to come. But we just couldn’t get them to fall tonight,” Thompson said. “I think they were probably a little excited, this being their first time in the state tournament up here. That’s to be expected, but at the same time I hope we can take this experience and learn and grow from it.”
The Jackets turned up their defensive intensity to start the second half and used an 10-4 run to get back in the game. Wilson had three assists during that spurt while Riddle scored four points and Bowling, Foister and Poindexter added baskets. Poindexter’s layup at the 3:19 mark of the third quarter brought Middlesboro within 26-24.
After another defensive stop, Middlesboro had a couple of chances to tie the game but Trenary and Williams each blocked a Poindexter shot from close range and Trenary got behind the Jacket defense for a layup.
The 6-6 Williams led the Rebels with 10 points and 12 rebounds and also blocked four shots in the game. The Jackets were frustrated at times because he was able to get away with a lot of contact below the waste and with his off hand while contesting shots. That played a big part in Middlesboro missing five more shots from close range as Owen County pushed the lead back to 34-26 by the end of the quarter.
“There’s not much size in the 13th (Region) and the way he’s able to move his feet is a credit to him,” Thompson said of Williams. “It seems like in tournament time they let you play a little bit down low and they’ll let the star players get away with a little bit more because they don’t want to put them on the bench. That’s just experience and we’ve got to go back home and understand what we’ve got to work on. Next time we come here we’ll, hopefully, be more prepared and more skilled so we can make moves to enable us to get better looks at the basket.”
Middlesboro’s Derek Smith came away with a steal early in the fourth quarter and got the ball ahead to Blake Davis for a layup but the score remained 34-28 for over three minutes. Trenary broke the drought with a short jumper to push the lead back to eight with 3:50 to play.
Two free throws from Foister and one from Poindexter got the Jackets back within 36-31 by the 2:50 mark, but the Rebels hit 10 of 12 free throws down the stretch to go on to the eight-point win.
“They ran through their offense and they did a good job. I think on one possession that ran off over a minute. They had played up here last year and they were probably more experienced in an atmosphere like this. They were able to get shots they wanted, but we still defended them well and I thought we rebounded pretty well for the most part,” Thompson said.
Owen County (17-3) advances to play Knott County Central today in the quarterfinals.
While Williams was the only Rebel to reach double-figures, Trenary finished with nine points, Tucker Trenary added eight and Ripy seven.
Foister led the Jackets with 16 points and four steals while Poindexter finished with seven points and eight rebounds.
Despite the loss, Thompson said being able to come to Frankfort for the tournament has been a very positive experience for his team.
“It’s been a great experience. The All ‘A’ treats you as well as any tournament in the state. They put us up in a nice motel, my kids got to go to the capitol and meet the governor. There’s not many kids in Kentucky that get to play in a state championship tournament. They’ve taken advantage of that and they’re enjoying themselves,” he said. “We’re going to stay up here until Saturday and watch the rest of the tournament and tour the city a little bit. There’s a lot of good history here and the kids will get to experience some things they probably wouldn’t have been able to experience without earning the right to come to this tournament. They’re a great bunch of kids and they worked really hard to get us here and I’m really proud to be their coach.”
Middlesboro was well-represented at the game with a large and boisterous student section, many adult fans along with the band and cheerleaders.
“I feel like we’ve got a long way to travel compared to most of these schools and we were just represented so well by our fans and our students,” Thompson added. “I really appreciated that.”
Middlesboro (12-8) returns to action Monday at Harlan County.
— — —
Owen County…14…8…12…12 — 46
Middlesboro……7…7…12…12 — 38
OWEN COUNTY (46): Carson Williams 10, Hunter Trenary 9, Tucker Trenary 8, Zach Ripy 7, Justin Shelton 6, Jarrod Ball 5, James Stone 1, Mason Borchers 0.
MIDDLESBORO (38): Donnie Foister 16, Austin Poindexter 7, Zach Riddle 5, Boone Bowling 4, Michael Wilson 4, Blake Davis 2, Derek Smith 0, Major Edwards 0.