By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
HAZARD—Last year at this time North Laurel had an 11-6 record after being blown out at Bell County. With a 43-40 loss to Breathitt County Tuesday, the Jaguars currently sit at 9-8. It’s not that much different from a year ago, which turned out pretty good.
But they do have to flip the switch soon. North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore said he thought the competition in the WYMT Classic might be what it took to get his team playing well.
“You would think so. We’ve been looking forward to it all year. We came in before the game and they looked like they were ready to go,” Sizemore said.
The Jaguars won their own Legacy Nissan Shootout just before Christmas playing their best ball of the season. It is the only time they have won three straight. The only other time they won back-to-back games was against Harlan and Oneida Baptist to open the season.
Sizemore said Tuesday’s loss came down to a familiar problem.
“We shot 50 percent from the foul line, that’s the first thing, and it’s a three-point game. We missed a lot of easy shots around the basket,” Sizemore said. “That’s been the story the last two out of three games.”
The Jaguars made just two of 10 field goals in the first quarter despite having a size advantage on the Bobcats. Breathitt County actually went with a small lineup of all guards, leaving their usual post man on the bench until the third quarter.
“They just slowed us down in the half court, matching up and staying between us and the rim. They really made us work for shots,” Sizemore said. “At the same time, we had stuff that was there. We just didn’t make the plays.”
The first quarter would be crucial. Breathitt County led 11-6 after the first quarter, which allowed them to maintain the slow pace. Although North Laurel outscored them the next three quarters, they never made up the six-point margin.
“The first quarter killed us. We got off to a slow start. We outscored them in the second and third quarter, and played even with them in the fourth, but we didn’t play at all in the first quarter,” Sizemore said.
Breathitt County led by as much as eight in the second quarter and by five at halftime.
The Jaguars did speed up the game some in the third quarter with the press. Kendrick Henson and Marcus Carson took defensive rebounds to the goal for layups on consecutive possessions to give the Jaguars a 30-28 lead with 3:33 in the third quarter. The lead lasted only 10 seconds as North Laurel went scoreless the remainder of the quarter.
“I thought we did a decent job of pressing them in spots, but at the same time there were so many plays that we gave them easy layups when the game was on the line,” Sizemore said.
North Laurel’s last lead came with 4:20 remaining when Peyton Broughton scored inside. The Jaguars missed two free throws on their next possession that would have padded the lead.
After Breathitt County regained the lead, the Jaguars missed two easy shots that would have put them back on top.
“We’re not going to beat anybody if we can’t make free throws and layups. We’ve been working on it like we have been all year. I don’t have an answer for that. It’s just disappointing the ball wouldn’t go in,” Sizemore said. “We were getting it right where we want it, three feet away from the basket on the drives to the rim.”
The Jaguars made just 5-of-10 free throws on the night and 15-of-45 field goals (33 percent).
The loss drops the Jaguars to the consolation round of the WYMT Mountain Classic. They were scheduled to play Betsy Layne Thursday. Betsy Layne lost to Knott County Central Tuesday, 55-44. Betsy Layne (11-5) has wins this season over Jackson County and East Ridge, two teams that beat North Laurel.
WYMT Mountain Classic
at Perry County Central
Breathitt County 43, North Laurel 40
Breathitt County 43, North Laurel 40
Breathitt County 11 11 11 10—43
North Laurel 5 12 13 10—40
BREATHITT COUNTY (43)—Noble 10, Hamilton 12, Fugate 11, Cox 5, Trent 5.
NORTH LAUREL (40)—Carson 8, Broughton 2, Thompson 6, Rush 5, Allen 6, Henson 10, Jervis 3.