Black Bears complete sweep by coasting past Bell in 52nd District finals

Published 7:01 pm Monday, March 4, 2024

By John Henson

Contributing Sports Writer

While their place in Harlan County basketball history likely still depends on being able to win three more games in the 13th Region Tournament starting Wednesday in Corbin, it’s difficult to dismiss what the Harlan County Black Bears have accomplished in 2024. Harlan County completed a second straight 8-0 run against district competition, coasting past Bell County 77-54 on Friday to capture its second straight 52nd District Tournament title.

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With an average district victory margin of just over 30 points per game against a Bell team dominated by underclassmen, the championship game felt more like a crowning ceremony with a boisterous crowd anticipating Harlan County would complete a second straight undefeated campaign at home.

“I told them in the locker room we’ve dominated the district the last two years and it wasn’t going to end tonight. They were pretty fired up,” Harlan County coach Kyle Jones said after his team improved to 28-4 on the season.

Bell hit five of its first six shots but simply couldn’t keep up with the high-powered HC offense led by Trent Noah with 30 points and Maddox Huff with 21. The Bears’ length and athleticism on defense led to five first-quarter turnovers as HCHS built a 23-13 lead despite Bell running almost two minutes off the clock on one possession.

“We felt they would try to slow the game down, so we switched up and played them a different way. It worked pretty well for us, and we made good adjustments when they started overloading one side,” Jones said. “I’m proud of their effort, and I love this team.  I told them after the game we had to take it one game at a time, and we have three more we want to get.”

Harlan County had only one turnover in the first half and built the lead to 41-23 by halftime as Noah and Brody Napier each had two baskets in the second period.

Noah took over in the third quarter with five baskets and eight rebounds. Huff added three baskets. Noah’s 3 with 1:02 left in the period pushed the lead to 69-33 and started a running clock.

“There’s no easy way to say it. Harlan County has the best team we’ve played this year,” Bell County coach Brad Sizemore said. “We told our guys that’s what we’re working toward. We want to get to that level. You have to give the other team credit. They have a nice club and are ranked high (fourth) in the state for a reason. We tried to do a lot of different things, but they make a lot of tough shots and put a lot of points on the board in a hurry.”

Sophomore guard Blake Burnett scored 17 points and junior guard Cameron Hall added 12 for the Bobcats, who fell to 25-7 with their third loss to the Bears this season.

“I’m proud of the way our kids played,” Sizemore said. “They tried to do what we asked them to do. We’re just not there yet. We have a young basketball team. We’ve had a great year so far, and I’m really proud of them. We just have work to do, but the good thing is we get to move on. We’re going to regroup and try to win a game.”

Junior center Jaycee Carted added 10 points for the Bears as he hit four of five shots.

Both teams advance to the 13th Region Tournament opening Wednesday at The Corbin Arena.