HARLAN — Senior guard Kendrick Henson scored 12 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to lead North Laurel to a 49-47 come-from-behind win over Knox Central in the final first round of the boys’ 13th Region Tournament at Harlan County High School on Tuesday.
The defending regional champion Jags trailed by 10 at the half and by eleven late in the third quarter. North hit just two of their first 13 attempts from three-point range, but Henson hit four over the final quarter-plus and Marcus Carson added another to led the comeback effort.
“They didn’t want to go to the house. It wasn’t anything that I did, they just took the game in their own hands and (Henson) got hot,” North coach Brad Sizemore said. “I mean we were done, the game was over. Then the kids made plays at the right time and got the momentum.”
Knox Central had their way in the paint for much of the game as senior center Tobie Merida led the Panthers with 17 points and freshman forward Chad Marsee added 10. Jeffrey Adams finished with eleven points — all in the first half — and sophomore guard Matthew Barger added seven.
“We came in with a game plan to limit their post. That’s where they had absolutely killed us the last time,” Panther coach Brian Evans said. “Give them credit, we found a way to shut that down and still found a way to win. The Henson kid just made shot after shot, that’s probably my fault for not changing up the defense.”
The Jags also got nine points from Carson, seven from Austin Thompson and five off the bench from Peyton Broughton.
Broughton helped to swing the momentum in North’s favor by blocking a Merida shot from close range and then converting a three-point play at the other end to cut Central’s lead to 37-32 with just under 7:00 remaining. Henson converted a four-point play soon after and later tied the game at 43 with another 3.
Barger drew the Jag defense as he drove into the lane and found Marsee wide open at the basket for two and the Panthers led 45-43 with 2:45 remaining. Henson answered with a 3 to give North their first lead since it was 3-2 in the early going. Barger put Knox back on top, 47-46, with a runner in the lane with 1:20 on the clock.
Henson answered with another 3 at the 1:02 mark for a 49-47 Jag led.
“Our kids have got a lot of heart. I’m glad for them,” Sizemore added.
The Panthers missed a three with about 35 seconds to go, but North was called for a travel after the rebound. Knox ran off most of the rest of the clock and Barger again penetrated and looked for Marsee cutting to the basket, but the ball got away from the big freshman and Carson came away with it.
Knox had one final chance when Carson missed the front end of the bonus with 3.5 seconds to go, but Austin Rush knocked away a deep pass and Henson grabbed the ball and the Jags ran out the clock.
“I’m still very proud of my guys, very proud of my seniors. We competed hard, my guys did everything I asked them to do,” Evans added. “That’s all you can ask as a coach.”
Knox Central, the six-time defending 51st District champion, ends the season with a record of 17-14.
North Laurel (16-15) advances to face host Harlan County in the semifinals on Friday at 7:45 p.m.
“We’ve played them twice, obviously, and did better the second time. These kids have got some experience under their belts, we know how good Harlan County is and we’re playing them on their home court. But like I told them: ‘If anybody can take them out I think we can,’” Sizemore said. “We’ll have to play better than we did tonight, but I think this one will give us some confidence.”
— — —
North Laurel….5…12…12…20 — 49
Knox Central….9…18…10…10 — 47
NORTH LAUREL (49): Kendrick Henson 20, Marcus Carson 9, Austin Thompson 7, Jake Allen 3, Austin Rush 2, Peyton Broughton 5, Elijah Jervis 3, Chris Miller 0.
KNOX CENTRAL (47): Tobie Merida 17, Jeffrey Adams 11, Chad Merida 10, Matthew Barger 7, Jacob Wilburn 0, Nathan Cole 2, Dustin Hensley 0.