Bears edge North in tourney finals
LONDON — In a game where both teams seemed to watch victory slip away several times, the Harlan County Black Bears were left standing when the final horn sounded on the Legacy Nissan Dribble Drive Challenge on Saturday at South Laurel. Harlan County staged an unlikely comeback in the final seconds of regulation, built a big lead in overtime and then needed a game-winning shot to edge North Laurel 62-60.
“We didn’t play as well as we’re capable of playing, but you have to give North Laurel credit for that. They did a good job of defending us,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said, “I thought we missed a lot of easy shots, but we made enough plays at the end to win, and I’m proud of the kids and their effort. They could have folded a couple of times but they made some huge plays.”
“I thought our kids played really hard,” North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore said. “It was a tough loss because of how hard they battled throughout the game. They got behind a couple of times and made some runs. We got a couple of bad breaks, but you have to give Harlan County credit. We had a couple of mental breakdowns when we didn’t capitalize on some opportunities. Our kids played to the horn went off. It’s a December game and a Christmas tournament and we’ll learn from it.”
Harlan County (12-1) seemed to find a different hero every game in winning the tournament and needed a couple of reserve guards to win Saturday. Junior Patrick Bynum hit six of six shots from the field in a 16-point effort to earn game most valuable honors. Sophomore Taylor Spurlock scored six of the Bears’ 10 points in overtime, including the game-winner with seven seconds left, and finished with eight points.
“Patrick played phenomenal tonight,” Jones said. “We know we can get that out of Patrick. We have to take care of some things in practice. He just has to play athletically and not think too much, and he did that tonight. He was huge off the bench, and so was Taylor, who responded the right way tonight when he didn’t get to play as much. He made some big shots and huge defensive plays. I’m proud of both of those kids.”
Senior guards Andrew Creech and Drew Nolan added 12 and 10 points, respectively, for the Bears.
North Laurel (11-2) was led by senior guard Brian Gray with 15 points. Albert Oster, a 6-6 senior center, added 10 points, as did senior guard Jack Capobianco.
The Jaguars started strong, hitting six of 11 shots in the first quarter to build a 13-7 lead as the Bears struggled to score, missing eight of 11 shots, and guard North out of its spread offense.
HCHS trailed 20-11 midway through the second quarter when Jones found a defensive lineup that did a better job of matching the Jags’ quickness. Bynum, Tyrese Simmons and Alex Pace scored in a 9-0 run that pulled the Bears even.
Gray, Adam Sizemore and Keenan Hernandez put together a 7-0 run for North, but baskets by Nolan and Simmons cut the deficit to 27-24 at halftime.
Harlan County scored the first seven points of the second half with the help of a more aggressive and active defense. North battled back to go up by one before Bynum scored on a put-back and then hit a buzzer-beating 3 after a jump-ball call in a scramble for a loose ball near midcourt.
North tied the game at 40 on baskets by Sizemore and Oster to open the fourth quarter, setting the stage for a possession-by-possession finish that included ties at 42, 44, 46 and 48. The Jaguars appeared to be in control, up 52-48, after two free throws each by Sizemore and Capobianco, Creech wiped that out when he hit a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left and drew a foul, completing a tying four-point play.
“Andrew made a big shot, then had to step up and hit a big free throw,” Jones said.
Two baskets by Spurlock and one by Bynum gave the Bears a six-point lead in overtime, a lead they still had with 35 seconds left when Pace hit two free throws to make it 60-54. A three-point play by Hernandez with 30 seconds left and a 3-pointer by Kaleb Osborne with 17 seconds to play pulled North even, but Spurlock slipped behind the defense for a layup. Osborne was unable to connect on a second straight trey as time expired.
Each team had four turnovers in overtime, often taking turns taking the ball away.
“We have to quit turning it over so much,” Jones said. “We were throwing it to anybody in the bleachers who was open. We’ll learn from it though. This was a like a district or regional tournament atmosphere, and some of our guys have never been in that situation. It’s good for our kids.”
“We were trying to make the extra pass instead of taking it to the rim,” Sizemore said. “We’ll learn from it.”
Both teams have probably exceeded expectations to this point after both lost star players to graduation.
“I like what we have. They play well together, and we have a good mixture of size and ball handling,” Sizemore said. “We just have to keep making improvements. We have a big week coming up with Clay County on Friday, but at this point we’re pleased with where we’re at.”
Harlan County will travel to Perry Central on Tuesday.
Harlan County 62, North Laurel 60 (OT)
NORTH LAUREL (11-2)
Adam Sizemore 2-7 5-6 9, Brian Gray 7-14 0-0 15, Jack Capobianco 3-3 3-4 10, Landon Young 2-3 0-3 4, Albert Oster 5-10 0-3 10, Kaleb Osborne 1-5 0-0 3, Keenan Hernandez 3-4 3-3 9, Cole Kelly 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 23-46 11-19 60.
HARLAN COUNTY (12-1)
Andrew Creech 3-11 5-6 12, Drew Nolan 4-10 1-4 10, Alex Pace 2-9 4-4 9, Tyrese Simmons 3-7 1-2 7, Lamar Burkhart 0-2 0-0 0, Gabe Price 0-0 0-0 0, Patrick Bynum 6-6 3-3 16, Taylor Spurlock 4-5 0-0 8. Totals: 22-50 14-19 62.
North Laurel 13 14 9 16 8 — 60
Harlan County 7 17 16 12 10 — 62
3-point goals: North Laurel 3-13 (Capobianco 1-1, Gray 1-4, Osborne 1-5, Sizemore 0-3), Harlan County 4-10 (Creech 1-1, Bynum 1-1, Nolan 1-3, Pace 1-4, Burkhart 0-1). Rebounds: North Laurel 27 (Oster 9, Gray 6, Young 5, Sizemore 3, Osborne 2, Capobianco 1, Hernandez 1), Harlan County 26 (Nolan 6, Bynum 5, Pace 4, Simmons 4, Spurlock 3, Creech 2, Burkhart 2). Turnovers: North Laurel 16, Harlan County 17. Fouled out: North Laurel (Capobianco), Harlan County (Nolan).