By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
BARBOURVILLE —North Laurel wanted a win over Knox Central Friday, but more important than the game at hand was the showdown with Clay County looming tomorrow.
“We just wanted to play well against a really good team on the road. It’s the last tune-up that we have until Tuesday,” North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore said after the 59-53 loss to the Panthers.
With 12 wins in its last 14 games, Knox Central could be the team to beat in the 13th Region Tournament. Friday’s game would have no bearing on the post season. Tomorrow’s North Laurel-Clay County game will end the season for one of those two teams.
“We told (the team) two days ago we’re going to start using every practice, every game, this game to prepare for (Clay County),” Sizemore said.
One wrinkle that the Jaguars added was the debut of 6-foot-8 eighth grader Bailey Rice. Although he scored just two points, it gave the Clay County scouts in the stands something to think about. Rice also showed he could play. Rice teamed with Bryson Asher at times to give North Laurel a twin towers look.
“(Rice) obviously helped us. He clogged up the middle. He got in foul trouble and obviously fouled out, but he gives us another body in there,” Sizemore said. “He’s a big body and that’s really encouraging.”
The areas the Jaguars are still trying to fine tune include ball security, free throws, and rebounding. At least two of the three areas hurt North Laurel against the Panthers.
North Laurel only turned the ball over twice in the first half as it led by as much as five points at 12-7. There were four ties and three lead changes before Knox Central took the lead for good at 16-14 when Matthew Barger hit a layup off a North Laurel miss. Four of the Panthers five field goals in the quarter came off North Laurel misses or turnovers.
“When Barger gets the ball on the break, he can push it,” Sizemore said. “They’ve got a good team. They’ve got a lot of offensive guys that can score. We’ve got to do a better job getting back.”
Knox Central led by as much as six points before taking a 26-22 lead into the half. They would push the lead to nine to open the second half.
Elijah Jervis gave North Laurel a spark by grabbing an offensive rebound on Peyton Broughton’s missed free throw. Jervis drew a foul and made both free throws. Broughton then scored back-to-back goals off a Knox Central miss and a turnover.
The Jaguars would get a little loose with the ball and five turnovers in the third quarter allowed Knox Central to stretch the lead back to six.
“I thought we played really well. We had a couple of spurts where we had crucial turnovers. A couple of calls don’t go our way. We missed nine free throws,” Sizemore said.
Rice scored inside and Broughton from the baseline as North Laurel was within two points. Barger slashed for a layup. Kyle Jeffers answered with a three-pointer for North Laurel for a 41-40 score.
North Laurel stayed within a point or two until under three minutes to play. A call went against the Jaguars and Knox Central capitalized. Austin Thompson drew a whistle on a drive to the goal. One official called a blocking foul and the other a charge. After a discussion, the call went against Thompson. The Panthers ended up at the foul line where Barger made a pair of free throws.
“Down the stretch we cough it up and they either go down and convert it or we have to foul them,” Sizemore said.
The Panthers made seven of nine free throws down the stretch to maintain their lead. Again it wasn’t as much about this game as getting ready for the next. By that grade, it was a success.
“If we can play like we did tonight, we give ourselves a chance,” Sizemore said.
Knox Central 59, North Laurel 53
North Laurel 12 10 11 20-—53
Knox Central 12 14 13 20—59
NORTH LAUREL (53)—Broughton 23, Miller 5, Jervis 2, Thompson 2, Asher 8, Jeffers 8, Griebel 3, Rice 2.
KNOX CENTRAL (59)—Adams 5, Barger 18, Cole 6, Hensley 16, Hobbs 3, Marsee 8, Earls 3.