The Dragons demonstrated Tuesday at the WYMT Mountain Classic that there is life without star guard John Smith.
Anyone searching for proof of this discovery can tune in themselves on Friday and Saturday. The Dragons showed they are ready for prime time television with a surprising 38-37 win over Paintsville in the opening round of the tournament at Knott Central High School.
Playing only its second game since Smith went out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, Harlan overcame an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter to knock off the Tigers, ranked first in the 15th Region.
"It was the best defensive performance, by far, since I've been here," Harlan coach Casey Lester said. "We've been working a lot lately on taking charges and help and recover and on-the-ball defense. My kids showed tonight they could come together and play together as a team. I give them all the credit in the world."
The victory was anything but pretty as Harlan shot an ice cold 33 percent (13 of 39) from the field. The Dragons won with defense, shutting down the Tigers after switching from a matchup zone to a man-to-man.
The two teams set a WYMT Mountain Classic record for offensive futility, combining for only 75 points. The low-scoring matchup played into the hands of the Dragons, who knew they couldn't keep up if the game turned into a track meet.
"I told my kids we had to keep it in the 50s to win," Lester said. "There will be games where we try to run a little bit and there will be games where we have to slow it down like this."
"I told them that they would have to bring everything they had over tonight to win. I didn't think it would be as low-scoring as it was, but we'll take it. We wanted it be low-scoring, but I never dreamed it would be that low."
Paintsville coach Bill Mike Runyon was impressed by the Dragons' intensity.
"They outplayed us, they outworked us, they were better coached and their kids wanted it more than our kids did," he said.
Senior forward Stephen Brown scored 13 points and junior center Robbie Curtis added 12 to lead the Dragons.
"Having the inside advantage on them, I thought we need to slow it down as slow as possible and work the ball inside," Lester said.
Paintsville led 16-6 early in the second quarter when Lester called a timeout and took some advice from his players.
"A couple of my kids came and said,