"We wanted to concentrate on cutting down on our turnovers after the other night," Middlesboro coach Bill Jones said. "We knew they'd play us man because that's what they played us earlier in the year, and if I'd watched the Cumberland game, I'd have played us man."
Cawood (6-10) did its part in helping make life easier for the Jackets' offense, struggling defensively in its worst effort in several weeks after showing signs of improvement since Christmas.
"Tonight was a step back," Cawood coach Anthony Nolan said. "We knew it was going to be a whole season to get to where we needed to be, but we had been improving. There were a couple of things we did do well tonight, but we went backwards on some key things, and we can't afford to do that."
A pair of underclassmen powered the Middlesboro offense as sophomore Nick Smith scored 20 and freshman Blain Green added 19.
Sophomore center Josh Caldwell had 23 points and 10 rebounds to lead Cawood. Adam Rhymer added 19 points.
Caldwell had seven points in the first quarter as Cawood led by as many as five in the period. A pair of 3-pointers by Daniel Griffin, who missed Wednesday's game at Cumberland because of his mother's surgery, hit a pair of 3-pointers to cut the deficit to 15-14 by the end of the period.
"We hit some shots tonight, and it was good to have Daniel back, but we're missing Antwan (Brown)," Jones said of the sophomore guard who missed the game due to illness.
Cawood led 21-15 with 6:05 left in the third quarter after a basket by B.J. Nolan, but the Trojans' offense took the rest of the half off as Middlesboro closed with an 18-2 run to build a 33-23 lead. Green, the son of former Harlan star Debbie Hoskins Green, had three baskets in the run.
"We got up two or three possessions in the second quarter, then went away from what got us there," Nolan said. "We had one of those stretches where we weren't defending and taking bad shots."
Cawood fought back in the third quarter, closing the period with a 12-5 run to pull within two, at 44-42.
"We came out with some more effort and energy in the third quarter, but we broke down defensively," Nolan said. "They didn't do anything special, just drove it right down the paint. It was a lack of effort on defense."
"They started executing and hit some big shots," Jones said. "We were concerned they would pound it inside, and that's what they did in the third quarter. They ran the high-low to perfection a couple of times and got right back in it."
The Trojans took the lead several times in the fourth quarter, the last coming on a basket by Rhymer with 4:30 left that made the score 54-52, but they had trouble stopping the Jackets, who continually dribbled through the Cawood defense. Smith gave Cawood the most trouble as he hit five of six shots in the period.
"During timeouts, we talked about spreading the floor and letting him take it. Nick had the broken orbital bone in his eye socket, and he's starting to come back now. He's a very strong young man and works real hard," Jones said. "To be honest, we were trying to get Caldwell out of the game. We wanted to go after him, but coach Nolan switched him off, so we had Tyler (Hatmaker) go at him."
"When they got it in the halfcourt set, we were allowing them to drive by us or were out of position defensively. There's never an excuse for not being able to play defense," Nolan said.
The game was tied at 54, 56 and 60 before Tyler Hatmaker hit three of four free throws to put the Jackets ahead to stay.
Ryan Farmer's long 3-pointer cut the Middlesboro lead to 67-65 with 29 seconds left. After Smith and Nolan traded free throws, Hatmaker hit one of two at the line with 8.4 seconds remaining to push the lead to three. Farmer's 3-point attempt in the closing seconds was off the mark.
The Trojans continued to struggle from long range, missing 15 of 17 attempts, and shot only 39 percent (27 of 70) from the field.
Cawood returns to action Monday at Evarts in the second half of a district doubleheader. Middlesboro plays host to North Laurel on Tuesday.
Tyler Hatmaker 2-9 9-12 14, Blain Green 8-13 3-4 19, Nick Smith 7-14 6-6 20, Will Harrison 0-2 1-2 1, Josh Treece 2-3 1-3 5, Daniel Griffin 3-6 0-0 9, Michael Sulfridge 1-3 0-0 2, Eddie Gilbert 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 23-50 19-27 70.
Ryan Farmer 2-12 0-0 5, Adam Rhymer 9-20 1-1 19, Kyle Hatfield 2-7 0-0 5, B.J. Nolan 3-6 3-4 9, Josh Caldwell 8-10 7-10 23, Mikey Hensley 3-8 0-4 6, Gary Lee 0-7 0-0 0, Brad Howard 0-0 0-2 0. Totals: 27-70 11-21 67.
Middlesboro 14 19 11 26 -70
Cawood 15 8 19 25 -67
3-point goals: Middlesboro 5-13 (Griffin 3-6, Smith 1-2, Hatmaker 1-4, Green 0-1), Cawood 2-17 (Hatfield 1-2, Farmer 1-9, Hensley 0-2, Lee 0-4). Rebounds: Middlesboro 30 (Hatmaker 8), Cawood 42 (Caldwell 10). Turnovers: Middlesboro 13, Cawood 12. Fouled out: Cawood (Caldwell)..