STEARNS —A red-hot start by the Garrard County Golden Lions was too much for the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets to overcome on Friday as they dropped an 82-56 decision in their first game in the Arby’s KFC Holiday Classic at McCreary Central High School.
Garrard hit five of their six 3-point attempts in the opening period, including three from Austin Sebastian. Sebastian scored 13 of his 34 points in the first quarter as the Lions raced out to a 32-10 lead.
“We weren’t full-go at the start of the game. (Senior guard Donnie) Foister had hurt his thumb a little bit in practice and I gave some other guys a chance. We came out rattled and got into that big deficit,” Jacket coach Russell Thompson said. “We’ve just got to find a way to start the game with higher intensity.”
Middlesboro senior Justin Miracle hit two 3s in the period period, but otherwise the Jackets were held to one basket by Tyshon Kincaide and two free throw from Austin Poindexter.
Foister, the Jackets’ leading scorer, sat out the first quarter but gave the team a spark in the second. He had a layup off a Middlesboro steal and Poindexter hit a 3-pointer and converted a three-point play that cut the lead to 38-21 with 4:00 left in the half.
“I felt like over the last three quarters we played them possession for possession. There was no quit in this team. They kept kept their goal in mind after that first quarter of playing every play to get better,” Thompson said. “I know that we got beat, but at the end of the night I feel like we made some improvements. I know my guys are working hard and they’re trying to listen to me.”
The Lions answered with a 5-0 run and Sebastian scored their final six points of the second quarter. By halftime the Garrard lead was back to 51-29.
“I don’t know where they stand in the 12th, but in our 13th Region that’s a pretty solid team. They’ve got some long guards, they’re well coached and they shot the ball extremely well,” Thompson added. “Especially in that first half. It seemed like one three led to another and we were having trouble keeping them out of the paint. They were focused and ready to go.”
Middlesboro opened the second half with a basket by Tyler Prater and a 3 from Brandon Hale. A Foister 3-pointer made it 53-37 at the 6:30 mark of the third quarter. But the Lions answered every time the Jackets closed to within 16 and went on to the 26-point win.
Garrett Sparks added 16 points for Garrard while Slade Crutchfield scored 12 and Jacob Smith 10.
Poindexter led the Jackets with 18 points and Foister finished with 10. Middlesboro also got nine points from Miracle and seven from Major Edwards while Prater and Hale scored five apiece.
“Right now we’re looking at two guys that have to carry us a lot in Poindexter and Foister. Some of these other guys are finding out where they can make plays for our team offensively and how to play defensively. That’s what we’re shooting for and the guys still have a good, positive attitude,” Thompson added.
Even with Foister sitting out the opening period, Poindexter came in off the bench as well. Thompson said he doesn’t start Poindexter simply to keep him out of foul trouble.
“A lot of teams try to focus in on him at the start of games. I feel like if we wait two minutes and bring him in, it keeps him out of foul trouble. When he starts the game for some reason it seems like he picks up a quick foul or two,” the coach said. “I’m not saying it’s the best coaching strategy, but for now Austin is comfortable with it and I’m comfortable with it as well. We’ve gotten off to slow starts in two of our six games because of it, but I feel like it’s the best thing for our team in the long run.”
Both teams will continue play in the tournament through Monday. Garrard County (3-2) plays Southwestern on Saturday and Whitley County on Sunday with a placement game on Monday.
Middlesboro (2-4) takes on Whitley County on Saturday, Southwestern on Sunday and a yet to be determined opponent on Monday. They’ll return to action Friday in the Pine Mountain Classic at Pineville with games against Eminence and Rockcastle County.
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Garrard Co. (82) — Austin Sebastian 34, Slade Crutchfield 12, Jacob Smith 10, Garrett Sparks 16, Jesse Ray 2, Nick McCullum 8, Bryce Justus 0, Jarreth Davis 0, Jacob Parker 0, Brandon Pingleton 0, Dustin Collins 0, Dustin Butner 0, Parker Daily 0, Aaron Perez 0, Jacob Cooper 0.
Middlesboro (56) — Justin Miracle 9, Brandon Hale 5, Tyler Prater 5, Major Edwards 7, Tyshon Kincaide 2, Austin Poindexter 18, Donnie Foister 10, Abhishek Singh 0, Cody Smith 0, Matt Mike 0, Josh Buttery 0, Jared Gullett 0.