By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
You can’t buy much with a quarter, but one quarter is all North Laurel needed in Tuesday’s season opener. The Jaguars outscored Harlan 25-9 in the third quarter and held on for a 66-62 win.
“I thought we started off a little nervous. In the third quarter we came out and played the way we wanted to play,” North Laurel coach Brad Sizemore said.
North Laurel’s nerves and Harlan’s desire to knock off the defending 13th Region champion led to the Jaguars falling behind by 15 points in the first half. Not much was going right early as the Jaguars turned the ball over too much, rebounded too little, and missed shots they have to make.
“In the third quarter we pressed, turned them over, and hit some shots,” Sizemore said.
The rally actually started at the end of the first half with a 7-0 run that cut the lead to 32-24. The Green Dragons held a 36-26 lead early in the third quarter before the Jaguars erupted with a 12-0 run that took less than 2 minutes. All the points could be labeled hustle points, beginning with an offensive rebound by Peyton Broughton and Austin Rush claiming a loose ball inside. The next eight points came on layups after Harlan turnovers against an active press.
Sizemore said he reminded his team at halftime that they had been in this situation before.
“We came in at half trailing a bunch last year and fought back and won games. Those guys have been there,“ Sizemore said. “We always play well in the third and fourth quarters seems like.”
North Laurel took its first lead when Chris Miller’s steal led to an Austin Rush layup and a 38-36 score. Harlan regained the lead when Drew Parks sank a three-pointer against the Jaguars’ press. Miller would again come up big with a four-point play to give North Laurel the lead for good. After drilling a three-pointer in front of the North Laurel bench, Miller was knocked to the floor. The bench erupted and Miller stepped up to sink the free throw. That would start another 11-0 run making it 23-3 that North Laurel outscored Harlan in less than five minutes.
The North Laurel run ended with an impressive dunk from Isaiah Johnson against the North Laurel press. Johnson’s 17 points included a pair of soaring dunks.
“I scouted them the other day. I’ve been telling these guys they had some athletes,” Sizemore said.
The Jaguars led by as much as 10 points early in the fourth quarter, but Harlan shook off the North Laurel rally and made it a game to the end. Twice the Green Dragons had a chance to tie at the foul line, but missed the second free throw with 3:22 to play and again with 1:37.
North Laurel led 62-59 with 1:00 remaining when Rush scored on an assist from Austin Thompson. Harlan could have tied the game with a three-pointer the next two possessions, but were turned away by the Jaguars’ defense. Four straight free throws from Marcus Carson in the final 18 seconds sealed the win.
“For us to come out and in this kind of environment right out of the gate and get a win to open the season is a good thing,” Sizemore said.
Sizemore already expected a tough game from the Green Dragons before his lineup underwent a forced shuffle. When post man Jake Allen broke his left pinky in Saturday’s scrimmage it meant a lot of changes with very little time to practice.
“It kind of throws everybody out of position. We’ve got a lot of young guys that are trying to play significant minutes,” Sizemore said.
One youngsters would find himself starting in his first varsity action, eighth-grader Peyton Broughton looked like he belonged with a 12-point night.
“Peyton has worked extremely hard all spring and all summer. He’s got good size. He’s got a good feel for the game and he’s a competitor,” Sizemore said. “We’ll have five years left with him and it’s really exciting for me to get to work with a young kid like this right off the bat. He gets everybody involved and plays tremendously hard on defense.”
It was a good mix for North Laurel with seniors Carson and Rush leading the way with 14 points, then the eighth grader Broughton with a dozen. Juniors Miller and Thompson scored 10 and eight.
“It’s a learning experience. We got a lot of young guys into the game. We played 10 or 11 guys and all of them did a good job. It’s just going to make our team deeper when Jake gets back,” Sizemore said.
Allen, who has a cast on his left hand, will go back to the doctor Monday. Although initially thought to be a dislocation, an X-ray did show a small fracture. He is expected to be out at least three weeks.
The Jaguars get their first road test Friday at Oneida Baptist and return home Thursday for a tough test against Jackson County.
North Laurel 66, Harlan 62
Harlan 14 18 9 21—62
North Laurel 10 14 25 17—66
HARLAN (62)—E. Young 4, Allen 5, Piper 4, N. Young 13, Simpson 4, Parks 8, Meniel 7, Johnson 17.
NORTH LAUREL (66)—Carson 14, Henson 5, Rush 14, Thompson 8, Broughton 12, Jervis 1, Miller 10.