By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
MANCHESTER —You expect a tough game every time you travel to Clay County. Throw in that this was a rematch of the 13th Region finals and that district seeding was at stake.
“We knew they were going to want to beat us real bad, so I told them before the game take that first punch and if you get down six or eight just keep plugging along,” North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore said.
The Jaguars took Clay County’s first punch. When Peyton Broughton sank a three-pointer at the first half buzzer, the momentum and lead belonged to North Laurel. The Tigers would throw a second punch with an 11-0 run in the third quarter and win 68-53.
“The third quarter they came out and played us a 3-2 zone. We started being stationary passers, just trying to move it around the perimeter. We didn‘t hit the gaps and when you do that, you‘re not trying to attack the basket you end up turning the ball over,” Sizemore said.
In the third quarter the Jaguars turned the ball over seven times and made just 3-of-8 shots. They were also in foul trouble.
“It was really hard, especially when (Austin) Rush gets in foul trouble. That’s part of the third quarter,” Sizemore said. “We had to go with a couple of younger guys and then we played small. It’s just hard to do that against them.”
The loss leaves the Jaguars 0-2 in the district and in jeopardy of a tough road game to open the 49th District Tournament. There is still a chance of a three-way tie if North Laurel wins its remaining games with Clay County and Jackson County. Clay County and Jackson County have not played each other.
“The main thing is if we played like we did in the first half, the rest of the games and every practice get better and have some fire about us, we’ll play whoever we have to play the first game,” Sizemore said.
It was a good first half for the Jaguars, although they trailed by as much as eight points and played from behind most of the time. The Tigers took a 15-9 lead in the first quarter on back-to-back scores off offensive rebounds. They may have had a chance to open a bigger lead when a double technical was called on Marty Bowling and Kendrick Henson. Emotions ran high, but nothing more than words were exchanged. The Tigers still led by six with 2:22 in the half. Elijah Jervis started a rally with a three-pointer from the top of the key. Peyton Broughton scored on an inbounds play after a diving steal by Chris Miller. Henson gave the Jaguars their first lead with some fancy dribbling and a tough shot in the lane.
Clay County went without a field goal the final four minutes of the second quarter. They did make some free throws with a pair by Tyler McDaniel giving the Tigers a 31-29. North Laurel tied the game on a drive by Austin Thompson with 23 seconds. After a Clay County miss, Broughton gave the Jaguars a 34-31 lead with a buzzer-beating three-pointer. Broughton and Austin Rush led North Laurel with 10 points each.
“(Broughton) is feeling his way around. He’s a middle school guy. He’s going to get better as he goes. Hopefully we can give him a handful more games like this with a big crowd is going to help him when the district championship rolls around,” Sizemore said.
But the game would be decided in the third quarter. The Jaguars made just three field goals with practically nothing coming from a set offense. Broughton scored off a steal. Marcus Carson made a pull up jumper and a layup.
“Seems like what we are notorious for, we just quit attacking,” Sizemore said.
Clay County was converting North Laurel turnovers and misses into quick scores. When the foul trouble began to mount, the Jaguars were left with a small lineup. The final two Clay County scores of the third quarter came with Jarrod Rice so open he could not have touched a defender if he wanted. The Clay County lead never fell below double figures in the fourth quarter.
Last year North Laurel lost 88-52 at Clay County in the regular season and 47-40 in the district championship. But the game on Clay County’s mind was the 54-52 North Laurel win in the 13th Region championship that sent the Jaguars to their first Sweet 16. Recent history proves Tuesday’s game does not determine the season and that is the message Sizemore wants his players to remember. The Jaguars will also get Jake Allen back in the lineup soon with doctors expected to release him to practice this week.
“It’s going to take him a few days. He’s just been doing some jogging. He’s not even caught a pass full speed,” Sizemore said. “We don’t want to rush him back in there and get him hurt.”
Clay County 68, North Laurel 53
North Laurel 11 23 6 13—53
Clay County 15 16 19 18—68
NORTH LAUREL (53)—Carson 9, Henson 9, Broughton 10, Thompson 4, Rush 10, Jervis 9, Asher 2.
CLAY COUNTY (68)—McDaniel 23, Reed 6, Rice 8, Lyttle 8, Bowling 14, T. Smith 4, B. Smith 2, Wolfe 3.