For almost three quarters Saturday night, the North Laurel Jaguars dominated their cross-town rival South Laurel.
The Jaguars led by eight after one (17-9), and 11 at the half, 31-20. The lead ballooned to 13 early in the third quarter, when North’s lead was, 35-22, with 5:59 left.
Then, the Cardinals turned up the defense pressure, and the Jaguars wilted, falling, 64-61.
“It’s the same old North-South thing,” North coach Jim Conway said. “It’s always that way. For some reason, we have a mindset that we can’t get over. Whether we are better or not, it’s a mindset. We’re not supposed to beat them (South). It’s a mindset with the student-athletes at North Laurel. I can’t figure it out. It’s very frustrating.”
Frustration was something South Laurel, and coach Steve Wright, were feeling the entire first half, where the Cardinals shot a frigid 17.9 percent from the field. It wasn’t the start Wright was hoping to have against his county rival.
“I told the team that we had to keep playing and thinking that the ball will go in the basket,” Wright said. South made just 5-of-28 field goals in the first half, and continued to struggle early in the third. But once the baskets started coming, the Cards were able to use their full court press, which the Jaguars had trouble handling.
“That’s what we wanted to do the whole game,” Wright said. “It wasn’t a revelation at the half. You don’t have to score to get your defense set, but you do have to score to get your press set.”
In the first half, when South wasn’t able to use its press, North turned the ball over just six times. By the end of the game, that number grew to 20, including 11 in the third quarter.
“We lost our minds when they started to press,” Conway said. “For 16 minutes, we played well, and did everything we needed to do to win. In the second half, we went away from it.”
The game was tied, 5-5, when North Laurel went on a, 14-2, run to end the quarter with a, 17-9, lead. Cody Likins, who finished with 13, drained two threes in the quarter, while Ethan Eversole added a three of his own. He would finish with 10 points.
A 7-0 run midway through the second quarter pushed the North lead to 13, 26-13, with 3:21 left. Matthew Slavey then hit a big jumper for the Cards at the three-minute mark, South’s first bucket since the 5:07 mark of the first quarter. Slavey would follow that with a three, then hit two free throws, and North’s lead was 11 at the half, 30-21.
“Matthew has been playing real well for us lately,” Wright said. “That basket was big, because we hadn’t scored in a long time.”
North’s big man, Lee Spencer, picked up his third foul with 5:13 left in the half, and spent the remainder of the half on the bench. He picked up his fourth early in the fourth, which allowed South to start going inside more, as Spencer was afraid of picking up his fifth foul.
An Eversole three with 5:40 left in the third gave North a 13-point lead, 35-22, and it looked like the Jaguars would cruise to the win and avenge their defeat in the third place game of the Hoopin’ It Up Holiday Classic back in December.
But the Cards had other ideas. Blake Sanders, who finished with 17, led the charge for South Laurel, scoring 11 of those points in the third quarter, a quarter which saw South cut the lead to four, 48-42, going into the fourth quarter.
Slavey opened the fourth with his second three, cutting the Jaguar lead to three, 48-45. After Spencer made 1-of-2 from the free throw line, Dillon Tabor went up against the big man on the other end of the floor and was fouled. For Spencer, it was his fourth, and Tabor made both free throws, cutting the lead to two, 49-47.
Sanders then made 1-of-2 from the charity stripe, then Jeff Hale scored on a pass from Chase Smith, and with 5:57 remaining in the game, South Laurel had its first lead, 50-49.
North answered with a turn around jumper in the land from Spencer to retake the lead, 51-50. It would be their last lead of the game.
Tabor scored the next two baskets, the second off a steal by Smith, and with 4:06 left, South’s lead was three, 54-51. The lead would grow to six, 60-54, when Hale hit a jumper at the 1:50 mark.
North still had some fight left in them. Spencer scored inside, and then Likins made a steal and scored, cutting the lead to three, 61-58, with 26.4 seconds left.
Sanders was then fouled by Kenndrick Henson with 23.0 seconds on the clock. He missed the first free throw, but made the second to push the lead to four, 62-58. North quickly pushed the ball up court, and Eversole nailed a three with 10.7 seconds left to make it a one-point game, 62-61. The Jaguars were out of timeouts and were forced to foul. Marcus Carson fouled Smith, who made both free throws to give South a three-point lead, 64-61. Smith was 10-of-12 from the free throw line in the game.
The Jaguars had one last chance, but Likins missed a game-tying three, and the Cardinals emerged with the win.
“I told our coaches two weeks ago that we needed something to get us over the hump,” Wright said. “This might be it. I’ve been telling our kids that we are this close (holding two fingers a inch apart) to being a good team. After Christmas, we didn’t play well in the Bracken County tournament, and then we lost Thursday night at Whitley County. We probably needed a home game. That probably helped us a little bit. You learn about your team when you are at your worst. Adversity builds character. Our kids learned that. We are starting to develop an identity.”
“We had 20 turnovers, gave up 20 offensive rebounds, missed 10 free throws, and lost by one possession,” Conway said. “That tells the story.”
South Laurel was on the road at Williamsburg on Tuesday, while North Laurel played host to Bell County. The Jaguars will host Clay County on Thursday.
Sports Editor Denis House can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
South Laurel 64, North Laurel 61
North Laurel 17 14 14 13-61
South Laurel 9 11 22 22-64
NORTH LAUREL (61)-Likins 13, Spencer 13, Carson 10, Shears 14, Eversole 10, Henson 1.
SOUTH LAUREL (64)-Smith 14, Sanders 17, Hale 12, Brashear 1, Tabor 10, Slavey 10.