By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
BAXTER—Dead in the water. Stick a fork in them.
You could pick your cliché. After three quarters, North Laurel appeared to be headed home. It was all over but the crying. But it wasn’t.
“They didn’t want to go to the house. It wasn’t anything that I done. They just took the game into their own hands. (Henson) got hot,” North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore said.
North Laurel trailed by 12 points in the third quarter, but behind a 12-point fourth quarter from Kendrick Henson rallied for the 49-47 win. Henson made four three-pointers in the second half with three in the last six minutes.
“We were done. The game was over. The kids got some plays here and there and we got going at the right time. Maybe this will give us a little momentum going into Friday,” Sizemore said.
It wasn’t that the Jaguars didn’t have their chances early. They had plenty. Knox Central’s big men, Tobie Merida and Chad Marsee, realized that the officials were going to allow physical play inside. They held North Laurel big men Jake Allen and Austin Rush to one field goal in the first half. Rush and Allen combined for just five points on the night with the Knox Central tandem scoring 27.
North Laurel made only 6-of-24 shots in the first half. Henson, the fourth-quarter hero, missed all six of his first half shots.
“We played these guys two weeks ago. We played Clay County on Friday. We knew it was going to be (physical) coming in,” Sizemore said. “It’s just one of those things. We kept fighting and fighting and just couldn’t get the ball to go down. I’m just glad we got some outside shots to go down when the game was on the line.”
The opportunities kept coming. North Laurel rebounded with Knox Central in the first half, including nine offensive rebounds. They turned only two of those into points. North Laurel trailed 27-17 at the half, but the third quarter has been their quarter all season.
“We were flat in the first half and I don’t know why. That’s what I told them. You’re playing in a regional. If you don’t win this game, there is no season tomorrow,” Sizemore said.
Sizemore did change defenses in the second half, but the main task he had as a coach was to find his team’s power switch.
“We went to a 1-3-1 (defense) and we got moving. That was the main thing. We’ve got some length and size. We’re not very good defensively when we stand around. When we start being active and get our hands in the passing lane, I thought we were able to give them some problems,” Sizemore said.
There were times Knox Central looked rattled in the third quarter with the Jaguars’ defense running and jumping with wild abandon. The Panthers turned the ball over seven times in the third quarter, but only two turned into points for North Laurel. The Jaguars also had only one rebound in the third quarter as Knox Central flexed more muscle inside. The only shot the Panthers missed in the third quarter was blocked by Allen.
“I started acting crazy over there and they got some energy going. We hit some shots. That’s the main thing. They slowed us down early in the game and we weren’t scoring. We just kind of got to standing around defensively,” Sizemore said.
Even with the good things North Laurel did in the third quarter, they trailed 35-23 with 2:50 remaining. Henson’s only points had been a pair of free throws, but that was about to change.
Henson turned a steal into a three-point play. After Marsee scored inside for Knox Central, Henson made a three-pointer to cut the lead to 37-29 going into the fourth quarter. The Jaguars had made just 2-of-12 three-pointers before Henson connected on his first.
Sizemore said he didn’t have time to let it cross his mind that his team just wasn’t going to pull this one out. When asked, he sounded much like Internet sensation Sweet Brown.
“You ain’t got time for that,” Sizemore said. “You just act like a blooming idiot over there and try to get them going.”
The fourth quarter began with Peyton Broughton’s three-point play on an offensive rebound. After Marsee scored inside for the Panthers, Henson connected on another three-pointer. Henson also drew a foul to make it a four-point play.
Knox Central got a quick basket from Matthew Barger. A three-pointer by Carson had the Jaguars within two. The teams traded baskets over the next 1:30 with the physical play sending bodies flying all directions. With 3:15 to play, a steal by Carson led to a Henson layup and a 43-43 tie.
Knox Central held the lead with Barger making a touch pass to Marsee for a lay in. A Henson three-pointer then gave North Laurel its first lead since 3-2.
With 1:22, a Barger basket put the Panthers back in the lead 47-46. Henson gave North Laurel the lead for good, 49-47, with another three-pointer at the one-minute mark.
Knox Central did have chances in the final minute. A missed shot with 25 seconds was rebounded by Broughton. It was a highly contested rebound with Broughton slamming to the floor and leaving the game with a possible concussion. He was called for walking. That gave the Panthers another chance, but Barger’s pass to Marsee with 7.3 seconds was bobbled.
A missed North Laurel free throw with 3.5 seconds gave the Panthers hope. The game ended with North Laurel making a steal on the inbounds play.
The Jaguars advance to the region semifinals where they face host Harlan County tonight.
“We’ve played (Harlan County) twice. Obviously we did better the second time. These kids have experience under their belt. They know how good Harlan County is and we’re playing them on their home floor, but like I told them if anybody can take them out I think we can,” Sizemore said.
Boys’ 13th Region Tournament
at Harlan County
North Laurel 49, Knox Central 47
North Laurel 5 12 12 20—49
Knox Central 9 18 10 10—47
NORTH LAUREL (49)—Henson 20, Carson 9, Thompson 7, Rush 2, Allen 3, Broughton 5, Jervis 3.
KNOX CENTRAL (47)—Adams 11, Barger 7, Marsee 10, Cole 2, Merida 17.