Chris Jones | Daily Enterprise

Harlan County guard K.K. Johnson went inside to knock the ball away from Harlan forward Mackenzie King in Friday’s district clash. The Lady Bears clinched the top seed in the 52nd District Tournament and improved to 20-2 with a 67-43 victory.

Green’s return sparks HCHS in win

The Harlan County Lady Bears proved they could win without Blair Green, their all-state senior guard, with victories at Whitley County and Middlesboro as Green nursed a sprained ankle.

After already losing star center Kaylea Gross to a season-ending knee injury, the Lady Bears had no interest in playing any more games than they had to without their leader. It took Green only about three minutes Friday at Harlan to show how much better the Lady Bears are with her in the game.

With the score tied at 5 midway through the opening quarter, Green entered the game and HCHS reeled off 18 of the next 20 points to take control on the way to a 67-43 win that helped the Lady Bears complete their district schedule unbeaten at 6-0 and clinch the top seed in the 52nd District Tournament.

Green poured in 30 points, including a 12-of-17 shooting performance. Green hit all eight of her shots in the second half.

“She shot the ball really well the second half,” Harlan County coach Debbie Green said, “I wasn’t sure how much we’d play her tonight even though she said she was ready to go and therapist said she was ready. She looked really good, so we let her go.”

Senior forward Mackenzie King scored 18 points and junior guard Payeton Charles added 15 for the Lady Dragons, who fell to 12-10 overall and 3-2 in district action.

The Lady Dragons shot only 33 percent (13 of 39) from the field and turned the ball over 18 times.

Both offense started slow as K.K. Johnson, who added 10 points for the Lady Bears, had all five points for HCHS in the first four minutes. Green teamed with junior guard Shelby McDaniel for all the points in an 11-0 run to close the period, giving Harlan County a 16-5 lead.

Harlan was often its own worst enemy in the bad start, turning the ball over seven times and missing several shots in the paint.

Two baskets by Green and a 3-pointer from McHargue extended the lead to 23-7 before King, Noah Canady and Brandi Haywood scored in an 8-3 run that helped Harlan pull back within 11, at 28-17, going into the halftime break.

Harlan hit only two of 12 shots in the third quarter and turned the ball over seven times as the Harlan County pressure forced the Lady Dragons into playing too fast. Lainey Cox, Green and Breann Turner had baskets in a 6-0 run the open the second half. The Lady Bears connected on eight of 10 shots in the period, led by four baskets from Green, to extend their advantage to 54-28 going into the final quarter.

“I didn’t think we were attacking the way I wanted them too,” Green said. “We started attacking better the second half. I wanted them to run the floor harder and score more out of transition.”

The Lady Bears’ lead reached 30 midway through the fourth quarter before Charles and Whitney Wilson hit 3-pointers in a late Harlan run.

Harlan County (20-2) will be at home against Letcher Central on Monday. Harlan travels to Leslie County on Monday.

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Harlan County 67, Harlan 43

HARLAN COUNTY (20-2)

Phebe McHargue 2-6 3-4 8, K.K. Johnson 4-6 0-0 10, Shelby McDaniel 2-6 0-0 6, Lainey Cox 3-5 0-0 6, Breann Turner 2-7 0-2 4, Blair Green 12-17 30, Morgan Napier 1-2 0-0 2, Reanna Middleton 0-1 0-0 0, Hannah Wood 0-1 0-0 0, Morgan Blakley 0-1 1-2 1, Macie Napier 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 26-52 8-12 67.

HARLAN (12-10)

Payeton Charles 6-9 0-2 15, Noah Canady 1-6 1-2 4, Taylor Simpson 0-5 0-0 0, Mackenzie King 5-12 8-10 18, Brandi Haywood 0-0 1-2 1, Natalee King 0-3 2-2 2, Katelyn Burkhart 0-3 0-0 0, Whitney Wilson 1-2 0-0 3. Totals: 13-39 12-18 43.

Harlan County 16 12 24 15 — 67

Harlan 5 12 11 15 — 43

3-point goals: Harlan County 7-15 (McDaniel 2-2, Johnson 2-4, Green 2-4, McHargue 1-4, Middleton 0-1), Harlan 5-18 (Charles 3-6, Simpson 1-2, Canady 1-5, Simpson 0-1, N, King 0-1, Burkhart 0-1, M. King 0-2). Rebounds: Harlan County 26 (Cox 6, Turner 6, Morgan Napier 4, McHargue 3, Johnson 2, McDaniel 1, Green 1, Middleton 1, Hoskins 1, Macie Napier 1), Harlan 26 (N. King 6, Simpson 5, Canady 4, M. King 4, Charles 3, Haywood 3, Wilson 1). Turnovers: Harlan County 10, Harlan 18. Fouled out: None.