Harlan County hasn’t played its best basketball in recent weeks, but the Black Bears reminded everyone Thursday they are more than capable of putting together a run that ends in Rupp Arena. Harlan County snapped a three-game home losing skid on Senior Night with a 60-29 rout of Whitley County.
“We are just as good a team right now as we were at the first of the year when we were 11-0. We have just lost some close games. We have some bad luck where we didn’t make a play or two at the end of the game,” said Harlan County coach Mike Jones. “We don’t want our fans to give up on these kids.”
The Bears got off to a slow start in the first quarter. Boston Bryant had six straight Whitley County points to put the Colonels on top by two midway through the opening period. Chad Massingill responded with five straight points of his own to put Harlan County up 11-8.
The Black Bears limited Whitley to five points in the second quarter as they began to pull away. Tyler Miller had eight points and Alex Sergent added five in the period as the lead grew to 17 points at the half. Miller, a sophomore forward, continued his strong play and finished with 14 points and six rebounds.
It was Aaron Caldwell’s turn to take over in the post in the third quarter. The senior forward had six points and four rebounds in the period as the lead grew to 41-22.
The Bears continued to dominate on the interior in the fourth quarter. Harlan County’s post players combined for 15 points and eight rebounds in the final eight minutes as the Bears cruised to the win. Harlan County controlled the boards throughout Thursday’s contest, outrebounding Whitley County 37-17.
The Bears also turned in arguably their best defensive performance of the season in limiting Whitley County to just 29 points and 11 made shots. Whitley’s output is the fewest by a Harlan County opponent this season, and the least amount scored by the Colonels all year.
“It’s hard to say too much negative when you hold somebody like Whitley County to 29 points. They have played right with Corbin, they beat South Laurel and Knox Central only beat them by three,” Jones said. “They have played with and beat some good teams.”
Harlan County (21-7) returns to action Monday in the opening round of the 52nd District Tournament at Harlan against the Green Dragons.
“We are to the point now where we just have to win five in a row. We have won 11 in a row once, so we know we can win five in a row. Our kids still have the same goal that they had at the beginning of the season. That is to win out at the end,” Jones said. “We know we are as good or better than anybody in the region if we play like we are capable of playing. It comes down to our mental toughness and making our minds up that we are going to refuse to lose.”
Whitley County (8-20) will face South Laurel in the opening round of the 50th District Tournament. The Colonels upset South in their last meeting.
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Zach Wilson had 17 points as Harlan County (12-0) downed Whitley County 51-31 in the junior varsity contest to cap an unbeaten season.
“Those kids have played well the last two years,” Jones said.
Cody Bumgardner recorded 12 points for the Bears. Trey Sanders had eight points. Fred Massey contributed six points. Zach Caldwell had four points, while Kolby Vanover and Josh Lee each added two points.
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Harlan County (60) —Tyler Brewer 5, Alex Sergent 8, Chad Massingill 11, Aaron Caldwell 14, Tyler Miller 14, James Bond 0, Zach Caldwell 4, Cody Bumgardner 2, Fred Massey 2, Trey Sanders 0, Zack Wilson 0.
Whitley County (29) —Devin Rutherford 0, Michael Powers 4, Zach Rutherford 3, Matt Lawson 2, Boston Bryant 10, James Sasko 5, Luke Woods 2, Chad Foley 0, Zack Mills 0, Zach Hamblin 0, Casey Crisologo 3, Ryan Smith 0.