By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
And now the moment you have all been waiting for—North Laurel put together an almost perfect game to roll to a 63-47 win over Knox Central.
“Obviously we played our best game of the year. It wasn’t even close,” North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore said.
It came on Senior Night with Marcus Carson, Austin Rush, and Kendrick Henson playing their final home game with the Jaguars. More importantly, it gave North Laurel a huge boost going into this week’s 49th District Tournament at Jackson County.
“This is a great game for us going in Jackson County. Jackson County plays kind of the same type of defense as Knox Central did tonight as far as how they do their zones. Knox Central has got a big physical team. This is a great tune up for us going into Tuesday, so hopefully this is going to really help us,” Sizemore said.
It was also a breakout performance for junior Jake Allen, who faced a season of injury and more recently illness. Friday a healthy Allen scored 27 points with 15 rebounds.
“He just showed up and had a lot of energy and played hard. He’s had two really good days of practice. He made his shots in the lane. He worked for the ball. He got a lot of rebounds. I was really happy for him,” Sizemore said.
It was North Laurel’s game from Allen’s 19-point first half to Rush’s thunderous dunk in the closing minutes. Knox Central never led and only managed to get within single digits in the second half for a short 2-minute stretch.
“We just came out with a lot of energy. The kids played 32 minutes. We looked really sharp on offense. We got the ball to the inside and played really physical. We were able to finish our shots in the lane,” Sizemore said.
The game opened with Allen taking a lob from Peyton Broughton for a three-point play. It was just a preview of what was to come. After Knox Central tied the score 3-3, penetration by Carson set up a Broughton three-pointer. Allen followed with a three-pointer as he scored the next seven North Laurel points.
When it wasn’t Allen it was Rush as the Jaguars scored 12 of their 18 first quarter points in the paint.
“I thought Rush played really well too. He did a really good job too when we played man. That’s the thing. Different teams different things, but even when they took their post out and he got stuck on a guard, I thought he did a really good job on those guys keeping them out of the lane and contesting threes,” Sizemore said.
The last time Knox Central had sight of the lead came when Jeffrey Adams sank a three-pointer to open the second quarter. With the Jaguars leading 18-16, they went back to their strength. Rush scored in the lane and Allen converted on a lob from Elijah Jervis. After a Knox Central basket, Carson slashed for a layup. Then Allen scored on a spin move in the lane. Allen fed Rush with an assist for a 29-18 lead. The Jaguars would lead by 13 at the half.
The lead remained double figures until the final second of the third quarter. With 1:49, the Jaguars were leading comfortably at 47-34. Dustin Hensley made a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 11. Then a blocked shot led to a put back by Nathan Cole at the buzzer for a 47-38 score. Jacob Wilburn scored in the lane to open the fourth quarter and pull the Panthers within seven points. The run ended there.
Austin Thompson drilled a three from the baseline on an assist from Henson. It started an 8-0 run that propelled North Laurel to a 15-point lead. The lead peaked at 18 when a steal by Carson led to a breakaway dunk by Rush.
Friday’s effort reminded Sizemore of how his team finished last season as they came together at the right time to win their first 13th Region title.
“I like our chances. It’s 0-0 starting next week. Win and advance,” Sizemore said. “We can’t just show up and play O.K. We have to show up and play like we did tonight.”
Sizemore has said all along he feels like he has the region’s best team, they just haven’t always played like it.
“Just because you are something on paper you still have to go out and put the effort and energy in,” Sizemore said.
North Laurel 63, Knox Central 47
Knox Central 13 9 16 9—47
North Laurel 18 17 12 16—63
KNOX CENTRAL (47)—Hensley 10, Adams 9, Barger 8, Merida 2, Wilburn 6, Cole 3, Marsee 7, Wyatt 2.
NORTH LAUREL (63)—Carson 8, Broughton 3, Thompson 3, Henson 9, Allen 27, Rush 13.