By Les Dixon
HARLAN COUNTY — North Laurel senior Kendrick Henson is no stranger coming through in the clutch at region tournament time.
After playing a big role in North Laurel’s run to its first-ever 13th Region Tournament championship last year, Henson did it again during first round action of Monday’s game against Knox Central.
With the Jaguars (16-15) trailing 37-29 entering the fourth quarter, Henson took matters into his own hands by scoring nine of his game-high 20 points during the final eight minutes. He hit three three-pointers during the period, but none as important as his three-pointer :57 remaining that sealed the deal for the reigning 13th Region champions while giving them a 49-47 win over the Panthers.
“They just didn’t want to go to the house,” North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore said. “It wasn’t anything I done. They just took the game over in their own hands and he (Henson) got hot.
“There’s not a lot you can say,” he added. “We were done. The game was over and the kids got some plays here and there and we got going at the right time and maybe this will give us some momentum going into Friday.”
The Jaguars outscored Knox Central 20-10 during the fourth quarter on six-of-12 shooting from the floor, including a four-of-five effort from three-point range.
Eighth grader Peyton Broughton’s old-fashioned three-point play to begin the fourth quarter triggered the comeback attempts. He finished the quarter with five points before leaving with a head injury.
Despite shooting five-of-11 during the final period, Knox Central couldn’t overcome Henson or its own miscues, as four turnovers led to six points.
“We knew they were going to do something to change up defensively, but we just didn’t do a good job of handling it,” Knox Central coach Brian Evans said. “We gave up 20 points in that fourth quarter and that’s where it lies.”
The Panthers finished the game connecting on 21-of-44 shot attempts, but turned the ball over 17 times compared to North Laurel’s five turnovers.
“The Henson kid made shot after shot,” Evans said. “They showed a lot of composure and found a way to battle back.”
Knox Central led 9-5 after the first quarter and 27-17 at halftime before being outscored 32-20 in the second half.
“We were flat in the first half and I don’t know why,” Sizemore said. “I told them they were playing in the regional tournament and if they don’t win this game there is no season tomorrow.
“I started acting crazy over there and they responded a little bit and we got some shots,” he added. “We hit some shots and I think that’s the main things. Our kids got a lot of heart and I’m happy for them.”
North Laurel will now face-off against Harlan County, who picked up its first 13th Region Tournament win in school history during Tuesday’s other semifinal game by defeating South Laurel, 50-48.
The Black Bears are 2-0 against Sizemore’s squad this season, but the second-year North Laurel coach likes his team’s chances Friday.
“We’ve played them twice and did better the second time,” Sizemore said. “These kids have experience under their belts and we know how good Harlan County is and we’re playing them on their home floor, but like I told them, I said if anybody can take them out, I think we can.”
13th Region Boys Tournament
at Harlan County High School
North Laurel 49, Knox Central 47
North Laurel 5 12 12 20 49
Knox Central 9 18 10 10 47
North Laurel (49) — Carson 9, Henson 20, Thompson 7, Rush 2, Allen 3, Broughton 5, Jervis 3.
Knox Central (47) — Adams 11, Barger 7, Marsee 10, Cole 2, Merida 17.