Cameron Carmical has had plenty of big games in four years as a starter for the Harlan County Black Bears. None, however, were more timely than his 31-point performance Saturday afternoon in the 13th Region Tournament semifinals.
Harlan County trailed 10-0 a little over two minutes into the game and was down by as many as 14 in the second quarter before rallying behind the best 3-point shooting night of Carmical’s career. The senior point guard hit seven of eight from behind the line as the Bears rallied for a 59-56 overtime win, earning a spot in Monday’s championship game against Corbin.
“We told them at halftime that we had played good enough defense to win. It was just a matter of us making shots, and he took over,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “It makes my job easier when you can hand him the ball and let him go to work, especially when he’s shooting like that. He hit some beyond the NBA 3-point line.”
Treyce Spurlock, also a senior guard, added 10 points as the Black Bears improved to 30-2.
South Laurel (23-11) was led by sophomore guard J.J. Ramey with 19 points and senior guard Jared Grubb added 13.
Carmical hit four 3-pointers in the third quarter as he helped HCHS get as close as three before a Ryan Anders basket pushed the Cards out to a five-point advantage going into the final period.
“He had a heck of a third quarter,” South Laurel coach Jeff Davis said. “It wasn’t like we weren’t guarding him. He hit some deep threes.”
Carmical hit two more 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, the second giving Harlan County its first lead at 44-43 with 2:58 left in regulation. A basket by Tyrese Simmons and free throw by Andrew Creech pushed the advantage to four with 1:28 to play. Grubb hit two free throws, then scored off a drive with a minute left to tie the game at 47. Harlan County held for the last shot but Carmical was unable to connect.
He came through again in overtime though, nailing a deep 3 after the Bears had held the ball for almost a minute and a half. Creech and Simmons each hit free throws for the Bears and Blake Phelps connected on two for South. Grubb’s 3-pointer with 1:25 to play pulled the Cardinals within one.
Carmical scored for the Bears, but Anders answered for South. A Simmons basket off a pass from Creech put HCHS back up by three with 35 seconds to play, but Ramey scored on a putback to make it a one-point game with 12 seconds left.
Spurlock hit two free throws with 10.3 seconds to play for a three-point lead. Creech stole the ball from Grubbs in the closing seconds to seal the the win.
“I think that shows the maturity of our group from last year,” Jones said. “We grew up all year long, and with everybody back you expect them to come through in situations like this.”
“They did a good job on Jared and JJ getting them in foul trouble,” Davis said. “Our shots just didn’t fall in overtime and they hit their 3s.”
Ramey ignited the South Laurel offense from the game’s opening minute as he recorded the game’s first three fields and added two free throws in a 10-0 run by the Cardinals to start the game.
Spurlock broke the HCHS drought with a free throws at the 5:17 mark of the first quarter. Carmical recorded the first field goal with 3:11 left, cutting the South lead to 10-4.
Spurlock answered a 3 by Ramey as HCHS trailed 15-9 before baskets by Phelps and Ramey gave the Cardinals a 20-9 lead after one quarter.
“A lot of it was our fault. We did a terrible job of rotating back on defense,” Jones said.
After hitting eight of 11 shots in the first quarter, South cooled off in the second, hitting three of 13 shots as Harlan County cut the deficit to single digits at 26-17 on baskets by David Turner and Simmons. Matt Cromer’s layup stretched the lead back to 11 before Carmical hit two free throws and Creech added one to make the score 28-20 at halftime.
“I told the kids at halftime we were fortunate to be down eight after giving up five straight layups,” Jones said.
“It was a heck of a game,” Davis said. “One of those games where you hate to see someone lose. Coach Jones has gone through a lot of things, and I’m glad to see him win and get a chance to go to Rupp (Arena, the site of the boys state tournament). He’s a heck of a coach. And I’m proud of my team. The seniors meant a lot to this program and they got this program back to winning. They have won a lot of trophies and have those memories to carry with them forever.”
Corbin (27-5) won both regular-season games against the Bears, handing Harlan County two of its three losses.
“We’ve got to our best to slow (Andrew) Taylor down, and that’s easier said than done,” Jones said. “We’ve got to control him the best we and, we also have to keep (Chase) Sanders and (Zach) Maguet and some of those other kids from having big games.”
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134