Kim Henson | Daily Enterprise

Harlan County senior forward Tyrese Simmons drove around Harlan’s Jared Hawkins in Friday’s district clash. Simmons celebrated his birthday with a 16-point, 16-rebound effort in the Bears’ 72-51 victory.

Bears defeat Harlan, clinch top seed

Harlan County completed its regular season district schedule unbeaten for the third straight year and clinched the 52nd District’s top seed with a 72-51 win Friday at Harlan.

“We’ve talked about going undefeated and going in again as the No. 1 seed,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “It doesn’t guarantee anything, but they responded. It’s hard to not have the kids get caught up in the emotions of this game. We didn’t do a good job early and we had a bad third quarter, but overall we played pretty well.”

Senior point guard Andrew Creech continued his recent surge with a 21-point effort to lead the 17-5 Bears. Senior forward Tyrese Simmons celebrated his 18th birthday with a 16-point, 16-rebound effort. Junior guard Alex Pace added 14 points.

Creech and Simmons also had strong games defensively, limiting Harlan stars Kilian Ledford and Jacob Wilson to 14 points between them on five-of-18 shooting.

“Ty and Andrew are defending really well right now and whoever we put them on are having a hard time scoring,” Jones said. “They can’t guard everybody though and some other kids have to step up.”

“They did a good job of keeping Kilian and Jake from getting going,” said Harlan coach Derrick Akal.

Sophomore guard Cade Barnes had his best game of the year to lead the 3-14 Dragons, scoring 21 points.

“Cade did a great job, and that was smart on coach Akal’s part to take advantage of the situation,” Jones said. “We finally had to put Andrew on him, but Cade had a heck of a third quarter.”

“Cade stepped up tonight, and I thought Carter (Barnes) played well tonight,” Akal said. “Cade has that ability. He just hasn’t had the confidence, in my opinion, but tonight he showed he can be an effective scorer.”

Sophomore guard Taylor Spurlock came off the bench to add 11 points for the Bears, who lost senior guard Drew Nolan to a knee injury in the third quarter. Nolan will have the knee examined on Sunday.

“Taylor has played well all year,” Jones said. “He missed some games with an injury and is just now getting back in shape and feeling comfortable out there with his knee.”

Harlan was much more competitive than in the previous meeting at Harlan County when the Bears were able to force a running clock.

“That’s a start,” Akal said. “It’s hard to execute and do the fundamental things when you don’t compete. I thought tonight every guy who played competed.”

Harlan scored the game’s first five points before Creech and Simmons sparked a 16-3 run to close the period and put the Bears up 18-10.

Spurlock provided a spark early in the second quarter as the Bears’ lead grew to 12 and then to 36-20 at halftime as Pace closed the period with two free throws and a jumper.

Barnes dominated the third quarter as he hit six of eight shots to help Harlan outscore the Bears 21-18 in the period to pull within 13, at 54-41.

Creech restored order for the Bears with a 3-pointer to start a 12-5 run in the fourth quarter that pushed the lead back to 20.

“(Creech) made some plays,” Akal said. “That’s a senior point guard who has played in some big games. He made some big shots and got in the lane and caused us some problems.”

The Dragons played without eighth-grade point guard Jordan Akal, who has been battling the flu.

Harlan County plays at Pikeville on Saturday. Harlan travels to Bell County on Tuesday for a girls/boys district doubleheader.

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Harlan County 72, Harlan 51

HARLAN COUNTY (17-5)

Andrew Creech 9-16 1-2 21, Drew Nolan 2-3 0-0 4, Alex Pace 4-12 4-5 14, Tyrese Simmons 6-11 4-8 16, Lamar Burkhart 0-2 0-0 0, Taylor Spurlock 4-5 2-2 11, Patrick Bynum 3-6 0-0 6, Gabe Price 0-0 0-0 0, Tyler Cole 0-2 0-0 0, Josh Turner 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 28-58 11-18 72.

HARLAN (3-14)

Cade Barnes 8-16 4-8 21, Jacob Wilson 1-8 2-2 4, Kilian Ledford 4-10 1-2 10, Carter Barnes 2-5 0-0 4, Jon Eldridge 3-4 2-4 8, Jared Hawkins 0-3 0-0 0, Tyler Carmical 0-0 0-0 0, Austin Adams 1-1 2-2 4, Tate Bryson 0-1 0-0 0, Caleb Adkins 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-48 11-18 51.

Harlan County 18 18 18 18 — 72

Harlan 10 10 21 10 — 51

3-point goals: Harlan County 5-12 (Creech 2-2, Pace 2-6, Spurlock 1-2, Burkhart 0-2), Harlan 2-14 (Cade Barnes 1-3, Ledford 1-6, Eldridge 0-1, Wilson 0-2, Hawkins 0-2). Rebounds: Harlan County 35 (Simmons 16, Pace 4, Spurlock 4, Creech 3, Bynum 3, Nolan 1, Burkhart 1, Price 1, Cole 1, Turner 1). Turnovers: Harlan 10, Harlan County 10. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: Harlan County (Creech), Harlan (Cade Barnes).