Zac Baxter led South Laurel with 21 points in Saturday’s loss to Harlan County. Baxter was the only Cardinal in double figures and one of just four to score.

Sometimes game plans work and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they work, but don’t produce a win.

“We didn’t play very well and I thought South Laurel had a very good game plan,” Harlan County coach Mike Jones said.

What South Laurel didn’t get was a win, but the 44-32 loss to the Black Bears wasn’t the fault of the game plan. South Laurel wanted to show patience against the Harlan County zone defense, and also played mostly zone to control the Black Bears’ powerful inside game.

“For the most part we did that. We just didn’t shoot the ball very well,” South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said.

To call this a slow-down game would be a bit misleading, despite the Cardinals scoring just 14 points in the first half and 19 through three quarters.

“If we could push it and get a quick score we were going to do it, but we talked about coming down and making great shots, making great passes, and not making two passes and jacking it,” Davis said.

The plan was about maximizing each possessions and getting good shots. It seemed to be working. With 6:53 to play, Zac Baxter grabbed a tough rebound and dribbled end to end for a layup. The Cardinals were within 23-21. It all changed with a three-point play by Harlan County’s Chad Massingill.  Tyler Vandeventer was called for a blocking foul on the bang-bang play. After a South Laurel miss, Tyler Brewer scored in the lane for a seven-point lead. Jones called a timeout to discuss strategy now that the lead was more manageable.

“When we got the lead, we told our kids during the timeout that we were going to spread the floor out, but we still want you to try to score,” Jones said.

Jones wanted to pull South Laurel out of the zone that had clogged the middle for three quarters. He also challenged his team to make free throws, something they hadn’t done well. The Black Bears missed their first six free throws of the second half.

“I’m happy with the way we played for about three quarters, then we had to get out of the zone because they had a lead and were holding it,” Davis said.

Harlan County tried to keep the ball in the hands of Brewer, their standout point guard. Brewer made 9-of-10 free throws in the fourth quarter as the Black Bears expanded the lead.

“It was a defensive struggle and we were just battling each other. They are strong. They are very talented and they play well together,” Davis said.

Jones expects more teams to play his team the way South Laurel did Saturday. The game plan did give the Cardinals a chance to win against the only unbeaten team in the 13th Region and the preseason favorite to win the region.

“Anybody that was here watching will probably do that. The thing about it is we’ve got to learn to get out on people a little better and we missed a lot of easy shots early in the game that would have prevented them from playing that way,” Jones said.

Harlan County’s largest lead of the first half was six points. They did not lead by more than five in the second half until the fourth quarter stretch that changed the game.

Jones has seen enough of the 13th Region that he expects another competitive tournament this year with several teams capable of winning, or at least knocking off a team that can win.

“We’re just trying to run the course here and win every game we can. We want to win them all, but if we don’t win them all, we’re trying to win battles right now. We want to win the war at the end,” Jones said.

Davis said he sees no reason the Black Bears shouldn’t be ranked among the state’s top 20 teams.

“They are just a tough team. They are so strong. They are patient, athletic,” Davis said. “We gave them our best shot tonight. We’ll go back and try to get better.”

Friday the Cardinals will be playing in the People’s Bank Classic at Madison Southern. South Laurel’s first game is 10:30 a.m. Friday against Buckhorn (5-2), followed by a 1:30 p.m. game against East Jessamine (6-3). The results of Friday’s play will determine who and when they play on Saturday. The other teams in the tournament include Letcher County Central, Sayre, and Madison Southern.

“We’ve got a little break here where we can go back and get some practices in and that’s what this bunch needs,” Davis said.

Harlan County 44, North Laurel 32

Harlan County   6 13  4  21—44

South Laurel   9  5  4  14—32

HARLAN COUNTY (44)—Brewer 13, Sergent 4, Massingill 6, A. Caldwell 2, Miller 7, Bond 1, Z. Caldwell 2, Bumgardner 7, Wilson 2.

SOUTH LAUREL (32)—Slavey 4, Miller 5, Baxter 21, Rader 2.

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