LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
A young North Laurel team got its first taste of big-game atmosphere in Friday’s showdown with Clay County. The Jaguars were in the game until the Tigers pulled away late for a 79-65 win.
“Our focus just kind of fell apart the last three minutes. I’m really proud of our effort and hopefully we will learn from our mistakes,” North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore said.
Clay County is defending region champion and early favorite to return to Rupp Arena. Sizemore isn’t ready to count out his team just yet.
“I think it was very obvious tonight that this is a very winnable game for us,” Sizemore said. “We aren’t buying into what other people are saying. Our kids are working hard and they expect to win. They are upset that they lost.”
Chris Miller put on a show for North Laurel in the first quarter with 11 points, including three three-pointers from the same spot on the baseline. It was a play the Jaguars put into the game plan Thursday. His first three-pointer gave the Jaguars their first lead at 8-7.
“I thought Chris Miller played really well tonight. He played the way he is capable of,” Sizemore said.
There would be three ties and three lead changes in the first quarter with the largest lead a three-point margin for Clay County. With 24 seconds in the quarter, the Tigers’ Blake Smith slashed to the basket for a 19-16 lead. He stopped to exchange words with a rowdy North Laurel student section as was given a technical foul. Two free throws from Elijah Jervis and a layup by Miller put the Jaguars ahead 20-19. The first quarter ended with a 20-20 tie
Miller stayed hot and by midway through the second quarter he had 17 points and four three-pointers. Although Clay County would finally quiet Miller for a few minutes to end the half, they still couldn’t control the game. The Jaguars hit the offensive boards for three straight baskets. Trae Henson scored twice on put backs and Bryson Asher on another for a 33-29 lead. The North Laurel lead peaked at 36-31 on free throws from Peyton Broughton.
Tyler McDaniel had been held in check up to that point. He scored four points in the final minute of the half as Clay County took a 37-36 lead into the break. There would be two more lead changes to start the second half. A McDaniel three-pointer gave Clay County a 40-38 lead. It would be the 12th lead change of the game and the final one.
“We just wanted to wear him down. We wanted to press him the entire game. If you let him walk the ball down and get comfortable he’s really good,” Sizemore said.
McDaniel’s three-pointer started an 11-2 run for Clay County that pushed the lead to double figures. Much of the Clay County spurt was fueled by North Laurel turnovers.
Sparked by a pair of three-pointers from Jervis, the Jaguars were able to pull within 52-48. They had chances to cut the lead further and did not convert. The Tigers led 59-56 going into fourth quarter. Two times in fourth quarter the Jaguars cut the lead to two points, once when Miller lowered his head and powered to the basket. The final time the Jaguars were within two was with 4:50 to play. Two free throws from Asher made it a 63-61 game. Clay County missed four straight free throws, but North Laurel again could not take advantage.
“We had three straight turnovers that kind of broke our back, just unforced errors. They are really good when they get a seven or eight-point lead because they are going to make free throws and take care of the ball,” Sizemore said.
While North Laurel went three minutes without a score, Clay County scored eight unanswered points for a 71-61 lead. The Tigers made 10 of their last 11 free throws.
“With it being a seed game, obviously you’re trying to get every win you can but we prepared for this game just like we would any other. I thought we had a good game plan and came in ready to go,” Sizemore said.
The Jaguars were scheduled to face No. 4 Perry Central Saturday in Manchester.
“We’ve got a really tough game tomorrow, so we’ll have to bounce back quick,” Sizemore said.
Clay County 79, North Laurel 65
Clay County 20 17 22 20—79
North Laurel 20 16 17 12—65
CLAY COUNTY (79)—McDaniel 20, Smith 10, Farmer 11, Wolfe 28, Allen 8, House 2.
NORTH LAUREL (65)—Broughton 13, Miller 23, Jervis 8, Thompson 9, Asher 6, Henson 4, Riley 2.