By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
In 1992, Duke’s Christian Laettner broke the hearts of Kentucky fans when he received a long pass with 2.3 seconds and turned for a shot that ended the Wildcats’ season.
There were similarities Thursday when Jackson County inbounded the ball with 2.9 seconds on a long pass to Zach Lawson. Lawson turned to take the potential game-winning shot, but a foul was called with .8 seconds. Lawson’s free throws broke the hearts of North Laurel fans as Jackson County won 86-5 in triple overtime.
“This is one of the best games I have ever been a part of as far as a regular-season game. It was a district tournament atmosphere,” North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore said.
There is one major difference between Kentucky in 1992 and North Laurel in 2012. Laettner’s shot ended the Wildcats’ season, while it was the first loss for the Jaguars (2-1).
“You have to give coach (Greg) Parrett and Jackson County a lot of credit. They made plays down the stretch and made big shots and free throws,” Sizemore said. “You’ve got to chalk it up like men and move on. That’s all you can do.”
Sizemore said he did not realize when he took the job at North Laurel last year that the Generals have become one of the Jaguars’ greatest rivals. Although North Laurel had won the last four meetings, all have been single digits. The Generals (4-0) last win over North Laurel had been Dec. 8, 2009 at a packed Jackson County gym.
With point guard Jordan Fox returning this season after a year at Dixie Heights, and the addition of Steven Wagers from Clay County, Jackson County feels like this year’s team is a contender. They might have proven it by beating the defending 13th Region champion.
“Our program has got to believe they can beat the North Laurels and the Clay Counties and it starts with games like tonight,” Parrett said.
Parrett is in his second year at Jackson County after three years as an assistant at North Laurel under Jim Conway. He knows the North Laurel players well and has coached most of them. It also helped make a game plan.
“We decided early on we wanted to stop Marcus (Carson’s) penetration. (Austin) Rush is good inside and Kendrick Henson is good off the drive. We wanted to make them prove they could hit that three,” Parrett said.
North Laurel led 14-13 after one quarter with 12 of those points on three-pointers. Marcus Carson opened the second quarter with his third three-pointer and Elijah Jervis followed with another.
Jackson County was able to keep pace with the inside presence of Wagers. Wagers scored 11 in the first quarter and led all scorers with 27 points. The score was tied four times in the first half before North Laurel opened a 10-point lead by holding the Generals without a field goal for almost four minutes.
Jackson County would grab the momentum to start the second half with an 8-2 run and were within 43-40 going into the fourth quarter. It would set up a wild finish.
There were three ties and four lead changes in the final four minutes of regulation. Fox gave the Generals their first lead at 49-47 with a three-pointer. After several see-saw minutes, the Generals appeared to have the advantage when a three-point play by Lawson gave them a 57-54 lead with 11.6 seconds. Carson was fouled before North Laurel could inbounds and made both free throws. North Laurel fouled the Generals’ Seth Bingham, who made the second of two free throws with 7.9 seconds. Carson rushed down court for a tough layup with .6 seconds to send the game to its first overtime.
“We played hard enough to win the game. I’m really proud of our guys,” Sizemore said.
Jackson County took the lead in overtime, but with Jervis and Ryan House coming off the bench to make key free throws North Laurel had a chance to win in overtime.
“We had so many young kids that came in and did so many good things. That experience down the road is just going to help us,” Sizemore said.
Two Jervis free throws had North Laurel leading 71-68 with 15.6 seconds. Jackson County called a timeout and brought in Austin Whitehead.
“He’s probably the purest three-point shooter on our team. He shot about 41 percent behind the arc last year,” Parrett said.
The Generals drew a play with an option on the baseline and Whitehead at the top of the key; Whitehead’s long three-pointer sent the game to a second overtime.
“He knows his role on this team and he has accepted he is going to do whatever it takes to win. He wants to play in Rupp Arena before he graduates and this is his last go-round,” Parrett said.
Although North Laurel had lost Carson, Henson, and Thompson to fouls, the Generals needed a big play again in the second overtime to stay alive. North Laurel took a 78-76 lead when Jervis lobbed to Rush for a layup. The Generals had a chance to tie with 1:06, but Jacob Hays missed both free throws. Jackson County got the ball back after a North Laurel miss. Wagers was fouled and didn’t miss.
The Jaguars had two shots to win in the final 10 seconds that would have ended the game.
North Laurel led by three points early in the third overtime before Jackson County tied the score with 40 seconds on two Lawson free throws. With 2.9 seconds, James Bundy stepped to the foul line with what looked like a chance to win the game. His first shot rattled out. As Rush stepped over to encourage the sophomore, Bundy said, “I got this one.” He put the Jaguars ahead 85-84, but there was still enough time for Jackson County.
“For Scout Bundy to hit that free throw says a lot about his character,” Sizemore said. “It’s about the team. It’s about everybody being ready to step up at any time.”
North Laurel had just one day to think about the loss before travelling to Letcher Central to face East Ridge. Sizemore said you have to keep in perspective that it is the third game.
“I told the guys in the locker room, we lost 15 games last year and we’ve still got to where we needed to go at the end. It’s all about making improvements and progressing,” Sizemore said.
The Jaguars will travel to take on Rockcastle County Tuesday.
Jackson County 86, North Laurel 85 (3 OT)
Jackson County 13 12 15 18 13 7 8—86
North Laurel 14 21 8 15 13 7 7—85
JACKSON COUNTY (86)— Fox 15, Hammons 17, Bingham 9, Whitehead 3, Wagers 27, Lawson 13, Hays 2.
NORTH LAUREL (85)—Carson 25, Henson 7, Rush 20, Thompson 4, Broughton 2, Jervis 15, House 9, Asher 2, Bundy 1.