The Green Dragons used a solid defensive effort and improved ball-handling in the final three quarters to defeat Barbourville 56-46 in the second semifinal matchup Thursday at Lynn Camp High School, setting up a 7 p.m. championship matchup tonight against Pineville.
Harlan (4-14) committed seven turnovers in the first quarter but had just six the rest of the way after making some adjustments.
"We worked on what we felt like they were going to do," Lester said. "We basically started out the same way against Williamsburg (in the quarterfinals Tuesday) - a couple of turnovers, a couple of bad passes. We sort of settled down after that."
"We just didn't play any defense in the third and fourth quarter," Barbourville coach Dinky Phipps said. "We let them have too many easy shots. They deserve it. They came in here and outhustled us on both ends of the floor, and they won the game and we didn't."
The Tigers took an early 4-0 lead but then went cold, going without a point for the final 5:53 of the first quarter while Harlan reeled off 12 straight.
Chad Creech scored on a putback to start the Harlan run, which also included a jumper by Anthony Rhodes, a layup by Travis Harrison and 3-pointers by Jecorey Fields and Rhodes.
Even though the Dragons got their turnover problems under control in the second quarter, the Tigers rallied, hitting eight of 13 shots and pouring in 22 points to take a halftime lead. Junior Josh Mills came off the bench to score eight points in the period, and junior point guard Garrett Clark drained a pair of 3-pointers.
Barbourville reclaimed the lead on Mills' final basket of the half, at the 1:28 mark. Bradford Marsili hit one of two at the line for the Dragons to tie the game at 24-24, but senior guard Cody Messer scored with 17 seconds left and sent the Tigers into the locker room with a two-point edge.
The third quarter featured four ties and four lead changes as the two teams essentially matched one another basket for basket. Harlan junior center Tyler Frazier scored five points in the first four minutes of the period, including a free throw to give Harlan a one-point lead with 4:18 left in the period.
The Dragons led 35-34 before Clark buried another trey and 6-8 junior center Kevin Williamson scored inside to put the Tigers ahead by four. Harrison hit a short jumper at the buzzer to pull Harlan within two.
Harlan tied the game twice in the first two minutes of the final period, the first on a steal and layup by Allen Hensley and the second on Fields' third 3-pointer of the game. Hensley buried a trey at the 5:16 mark to give the Dragons a 45-44 lead, and after Williamson answered with a basket inside for Barbourville, Harlan took the lead for good on Harrison's putback with 3:35 to play.
The Tigers missed several scoring opportunities down the stretch and were forced to send the Dragons to the line. Harlan hit seven of 10 free throws in the final 1:33 of the game, including three each by Fields and Harrison.
"They went on a little run, and I kept telling my kids, we were the ones who were supposed to be going on a run, getting the ball up and down the floor," Phipps said. "We just couldn't get in sync, no matter what lineup I went with. We were supposed to be on the fast break every time we got a rebound, and we were walking it up and down the floor. They wanted it more than we did at the end."
Harlan limited Messer, Barbourville's leading scorer, to six points on 3-for-13 shooting.
"I thought we did an exceptional job defensively on Messer," Lester said. "The Mills kid hurt us a little bit, and Williamson hurt us, but we felt like if we could shut Messer down, we had a real good shot at winning."
Fields poured in a game-high 16 points to lead Harlan, and Harrison added 13, along with 11 rebounds.
"Everybody played well," Lester said. "From Travis having a couple of key blocks to Frazier starting us out strong in the second half to Allen and Penny (Rhodes) playing great defense on Messer ... I'm proud of my kids, real proud."
Barbourville (9-10) was led by Clark with 15 points. Williamson added 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Mills contributed 11 points.
The Dragons face a tough challenge tonight in the Mountain Lions, one of the region's top-ranked teams. The winner will advance to next week's state All "A" Classic at McBrayer Arena in Richmond.
"We'll try to hurry home and try to get some rest," Lester said. "Of course, I'll start thinking about Pineville right now, and we'll fill them in tomorrow before we leave."
Garrett Clark 6-12 0-0 15, Cody Messer 3-13 0-0 6, Richard Hensley 0-3 0-0 0, Andrew Lee 0-2 0-0 0, Kevin Williamson 7-12 0-3 14, Josh Mills 3-7 5-8 11, Michael Poff 0-2 0-0 0, Garrett Vaughn 0-1 0-0 0, Tyler Tye 0-0 0-0 0, Micah Corey 0-0 0-0 0, Edwin Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-52 5-11 46.
Jecorey Fields 5-10 3-4 16, Chad Creech 1-7 0-0 2, Allen Hensley 3-5 1-2 8, Travis Harrison 5-11 3-4 13, Tyler Frazier 4-7 1-2 9, Anthony Rhodes 2-7 0-0 5, Brandon Taylor 1-4 0-0 2, Andrew Link 0-0 0-0 0, Bradford Marsili 0-2 1-2 1, Chris Begley 0-0 0-0 0, Steven Couch 0-0 0-0 0, Justin Parker 0-0 0-0 0, Michael Sizemore 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 21-53 9-14 56.
Barbourville 4 22 13 7 - 46
Harlan 12 12 13 19 - 56
3-point goals: Barbourville 3-14 (Clark 3-5, Lee 0-1, Poff 0-1, Vaughn 0-1, Messer 0-6), Harlan 5-16 (Fields 3-7, Hensley 1-1, Rhodes 1-5, Creech 0-3). Rebounds: Barbourville 36 (Williamson 12), Harlan 33 (Harrison 11). Assists: Barbourville 8 (Messer 4), Harlan 11 (Harrison 3). Turnovers: Barbourville 18, Harlan 13. Fouled out: None.