By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
North Laurel missed its first seven shots and went almost six minutes before scoring its first points. It would give Clay County an 11-0 head start on the way to a 58-52 win.
“I really didn’t expect us to do that because the last couple of games we’ve been starting off really hot,” North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore said. “They came out and sagged that zone in. We took a couple of outside shots and just froze up really when the first couple didn’t go in.”
The Jaguars rallied to cut the lead to six points at halftime only to again come out cold. Clay County scored the first eight points of the second half.
“I was trying to get them to get the ball inside to the bigs and we didn’t know whether to pass or to shoot. That’s on me,” Sizemore said.
If you take the first 5:45 of the first half and the first 2:30 of the second half, the Jaguars were outscored 19-0. It also adds up to almost one full quarter with no points.
There were other numbers that stood out in the Jaguars’ second loss to Clay County. The Tigers outrebounded North Laurel 20-7 in the first quarter. Although the rebound numbers were even the next three quarters, Clay County got a lot more chances in the first quarter.
“We talked about it before the game started. They’ve got three kids, those three seniors. They are all three physical. They are all three athletic and they are different than our bigs. They are 6-2, 6-3 and they can take a run and go at the rim. They are hard to box out because they take a run from the wing or foul line and just jump over top of you,” Sizemore said.
Free throw shooting would again be an issue with the Jaguars making just 6-of-14 from the line. Clay County shot better from the three-point line (7-of-14) than the Jaguars did from the charity stripe.
“That’s all we’ve done this week is shot foul shots,” Sizemore said.
Still with all the numbers against them, North Laurel made it a game in the fourth quarter. It didn’t look like a game early.
When Jarrod Rice sank a three-pointer with 3:05 in the first quarter, the Tigers led 11-0. The Jaguars first points wouldn’t come until the 2:16 mark when Austin Rush scored inside. The first quarter ended on a high note when Elijah Jervis beat the buzzer with a three-pointer. Still the Jaguars trailed 15-7. Clay County led 25-14 with under two minutes in the half. Jervis made another three-pointer with 35 seconds. Kendrick Henson grabbed a rebound and pulled up for a jumper that trimmed the lead to six at halftime.
“We just hit some shots. I thought there were a lot of plays throughout the course of the game where they gave us opportunities to make the game a lot closer,” Sizemore said.
The Jaguars only turned the ball over one time in the first half, but 8-of-31 shooting took away any advantage they might have gained.
Clay County’s hot start to the second half pushed the lead back to 14. With the Jaguars’ shots still not falling, the lead peaked at 18. North Laurel started a final rally with 5:52 in the game. Henson burned the zone with a three-pointer, followed by another from Chris Miller. With 3:55, Henson lobbed to Jake Allen to cut the lead to 48-42.
“We got the press going a little bit and it got us back in the game,” Sizemore said.
The rally stalled when Kody Reed nailed a three-pointer. The Jaguars were within 56-52 on a three-pointer by Carson with 26 seconds, but time would run out on the comeback.
Clay County (11-6) now controls its own destiny for top seed in the 49th District Tournament. North Laurel (10-10) will need a win at Jackson County to secure second seed.
“We all want to win, but at the same time I do think we realize it’s about making progress every day,” Sizemore said. “Clay’s a good team. It’s a six point game and we didn’t play very well. If we can get it going in the next three or four weeks, the district tournament is when it is going to count.”
The Jaguars are back on the road Tuesday at Somerset (13-5). The Briar Jumpers have won four straight including the 12th Region All “A”Tournament,
“Tuesday is going to be a hard one. There are not going to be any easy ones from here on out,” Sizemore said.
Clay County 58, North Laurel 52
Clay County 15 10 17 16—58
North Laurel 7 12 9 24—52
CLAY COUNTY (58)—McDaniel 18, Reed 12, Rice 9, Lyttle 5, Bowling 12, Smith 2.
NORTH LAUREL (52)—Carson 14, Rush 4, Allen 11, Henson 13, Jervis 7, Miller 3.