Visiting Middlesboro hassled the Lady Dragons into 29 turnovers en route to a 79-55 victory Monday.
"We waited on good shots and ran our offense, and had two or three kids shoot the ball well from outside," Middlesboro coach Elgie Green said. "But I thought defensively, we really played well tonight - trapping the ball, creating turnovers and getting some easy baskets out of their turnovers."
The Lady Jackets have defeated Harlan three times this season by an average margin of 31 points per game. In those three losses, the Lady Dragons have turned the ball over 102 times.
"Turnovers got us again, and it's something we really worked on," Harlan coach Chuck Mitchell said. "They put a lot of pressure on you, so until we learn how to handle that, we're going to have the same result."
Four of the Lady Jackets' starters posted double figures, led by junior point guard Sophie Robinson with 16 points. Junior guard Shaleesha Coleman and senior center Brooklyn Jimison added 15 apiece, and sophomore guard Samantha Coleman scored 12.
The Lady Dragons were led by Courtney Bell with 20 points and 15 rebounds. Junior Chassidy Lawson, moving over to point guard for the third straight game, scored 16, including 14 in the second half.
Baskets by Ashley Williams, Shaleesha Coleman and Jimison propelled the Lady Jackets to an early 6-2 lead. Robinson and Shaleesha Coleman each hit a 3-pointer in the period as Middlesboro continued to expand its lead.
With time winding down in the quarter, Shaleesha Coleman deflected a pass, scooped up the loose ball and raced in for a layup at the buzzer to give the Lady Jackets a 23-14 lead.
Bell got on track late in the first period with a pair of baskets and continued to dominate in the second quarter. The senior center poured in 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the first half.
"At halftime, we talked about rebounding," Green said. "I thought we gave them some easy offensive rebounds we should have had."
The Lady Jackets reeled off nine straight points early in the second quarter to take a 34-16 lead with 4:05 to play, prompting Mitchell to call timeout. Harlan answered with a three-point play and another basket by Bell and a 3-pointer by junior guard Alex Allison to pull within 10 at the 3:00 mark.
Shaleesha Coleman and Shanice Gilbert each hit a 3-pointer down the stretch, and Williams drained a putback at the buzzer to give Middlesboro a 42-26 lead at the break.
Harlan turned the ball over three times in the first 51 seconds of the second half, and the Lady Jackets capitalized each time as Samantha Coleman knocked down a short jumper and Shaleesha Coleman and Robinson each buried a trey to push Middlesboro's lead to 24 points. Robinson and Samantha Coleman each scored six points in the period as the Lady Jackets pulled ahead 63-36.
Bell was limited to four free throw attempts and two rebounds in the third quarter.
"We couldn't get it to her," Mitchell said. "That's the bottom line - we couldn't in a halfcourt set. They just kind of took her out of the game in the third quarter."
Harlan committed just three turnovers in the final period as the Lady Jackets turned down the pressure and both teams substituted heavily.
With the second seed already locked up, Harlan (15-10 overall, 7-3 district) would only face the Lady Jackets a fourth time if both teams advance to the district tournament championship.
"We've got three games left in the regular season," Mitchell said. "Right now, we just want to focus on getting a little better every time. When we get to the district tournament, we'll be playing the winner of Cawood and Bell County, and you've just got to take it a game at a time.
"If we are fortunate enough to get there, we'll have to take this tape and break it down and see the good things we were doing and try to build on those."
The Lady Jackets rolled through district competition, defeating opponents by an average of 31 points per game. Middlesboro only played Evarts once and counted its regional All "A" Classic quarterfinal matchup with Cumberland as a district contest because the Lady Jackets' appearance in the state All "A" Classic would have put them over the limit.
Green acknowledged that overconfidence is a concern, but he noted that his team hasn't shown signs of it yet.
"There's always that concern that our kids will come out and play hard, but maybe not be focused," he said. "But right now, in the games we've played, we come out focused and go right at people. It's not, 'We're going to relax tonight.' They come out and play hard. Hopefully, we'll keep that mentality.
"Since I've been coaching, we've not won a district title, and I think our kids are hungry for that, so hopefully, we'll go in with that killer attitude and play good basketball in the district."
The Lady Dragons return to action Friday at home against Knox Central. Middlesboro (23-2, 9-0) will play host to Whitley County tonight in a matchup of two of the 13th Region's top teams.
Madison Ball's layup with 21 seconds left lifted Harlan to a 37-35 overtime victory in the junior varsity game.
Ashley Mullins paced the Lady Dragons with 14 points. Amanda Blakley and Belinda Patton each added six. Chelsea Burchfield, Chelsea Wilson and Ester McMillen scored three apiece, and Ball added two.
Middlesboro was led by Carissa Overbay with 13 points.
Sophie Robinson 6-14 0-1 16, Shaleesha Coleman 6-13 0-0 15, Samantha Coleman 6-20 0-0 12, Ashley Williams 3-8 3-4 9, Brooklyn Jimison 5-10 5-10 15, Shanice Gilbert 1-3 0-0 3, Carissa Overbay 1-2 0-0 2, Katie Maiden 0-1 0-0 0, Ashley Mason 1-1 0-0 3, Whitney Ellis 0-0 0-0 0, Daven Hart 1-1 0-0 2, Kristen Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Taylor Hatchell 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 31-74 8-15 79.
Chassidy Lawson 6-13 3-3 16, Sarah Scruggs 3-8 0-1 6, Alex Allison 2-6 0-0 6, Anne Corey Johnson 1-2 1-2 3, Courtney Bell 6-12 8-15 20, Cheyenne Hamblin 0-2 0-0 0, Ester McMillen 0-0 0-0 0, Ashley Mullins 1-1 2-2 4, Madison Ball 0-1 0-1 0, Mimi Boggs 0-0 0-0 0, Chelsea Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, Kerri McCarthy 0-0 0-0 0, Katlyn Estep 0-0 0-0 0, Chelsea Burchfield 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-45 14-24 55.
Middlesboro 23 19 21 16 - 79
Harlan 14 12 10 19 - 55
3-point goals: Middlesboro 9-23 (Robinson 4-11, Sh. Coleman 3-6, Mason 1-1, Gilbert 1-3, Jimison 0-1, Overbay 0-1), Harlan 3-9 (Allison 2-6, Lawson 1-3). Rebounds: Middlesboro 37 (Williams 9), Harlan 40 (Bell 15). Assists: Middlesboro 17 (Robinson, Sh. Coleman, Sa. Coleman 4), Harlan 5 (Lawson 3). Turnovers: Middlesboro 9, Harlan 29. Fouled out: None.