By Les Dixon
HARLAN COUNTY — The defending 13th Region champion North Laurel Jaguars saw their reign come to an end during semifinal action of the 13th Region Boys tournament Friday, but not before putting up a fight against Harlan County.
The Jaguars fought back from two different four-point deficits in the fourth quarter before falling to the Black Bears, 50-45.
“We made tremendous plays and had the lead with under a minute and a chance to go to the finals in the region,” North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore said. “That’s all I can ask for. I’m really proud and satisfied with the effort we gave tonight.”
North Laurel trailed 44-40 with 1:56 remaining in the game after two made free throws by Zach Caldwell, but senior Marcus Carson put his team on his shoulders and knocked down a three-pointer, stole the ball and scored on a layup to give his team a slim 45-44 edge with 1:21 left.
Carson had a chance to extend North Laurel’s lead at the 47-second mark, but missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Black Bears took advantage.
Chad Massengill tied the game at 47 apiece with :43.6 remaining before another basket by Caldwell seconds later gave Harlan County a 47-45 edge. Caldwell scored all eight of his points during the final eight minutes of the game.
Massengill put the game away with an old fashioned three-point play with :12 left, giving his team a commanding 50-45 lead.
“You have to give these kids credit again. They didn’t want to go home. They didn’t want this to be it,” said Harlan County coach Mike Jones. “I looked out on the floor and I didn’t see our kids panic. That’s the way you have got to be.”
Things looked good early on for North Laurel, as the Jaguars outscored Mike Jones’ squad 14-5 in the second half to take a 25-17 lead into the locker room at halftime.
But the lead didn’t last long.
The Black Bears opened the third quarter with a 13-1 run and took a 30-26 edge with 2:50 remaining after a basket by Aaron Caldwell. Harlan County took a 31-29 edge into the final quarter of play thanks to a six-of-13 shooting effort from the free-throw line. North Laurel turned out to be its own worst enemy in the quarter by turning the ball over seven times and shot one-of-nine shooting from the floor.
“An eight point lead with this bunch is not an eight point lead,” Sizemore said. “Like I said all year, they have the best team in the region, but they just had to get over the hump. We knew they were going to get after us.”
The Black Bears pushed their lead to four points with 1:56 left before seeing North Laurel’s comeback attempt fall short.
Tyler Brewer and Aaron Caldwell led the Black Bears with 11 points apiece while Kendrick Henson scored a game-high points while Carson followed with 12 points in the loss.
North Laurel finished the game shooting 17-of-35 from the floor while turning the ball over 16 times. The Jaguars connected on five-of-eight attempts from the free-throw line for the game.
The Black Bears connected on 17-of-44 shot attempts while connecting on 15-of-25 attempts from the free-throw line.
13th Region Boys Tournament at Harlan County High School
Harlan County 50, North Laurel 45
North Laurel 11 14 4 16 45
Harlan County 12 5 14 19 50
Harlan County (50) – Tyler Brewer 9, Alex Sergent 10, Chad Massingill 11, Aaron Caldwell 5, Tyler Miller 4, Zach Caldwell 8, Cody Bumgardner 3.
North Laurel (45) – Marcus Carson 12, Kendrick Henson 14, Austin Thompson 2, Austin Rush 11, Jake Allen 6, Peyton Broughton 0.