HARLAN — When Corbin built a 24-8 lead after one quarter of Monday’s 13th Region Tournament opener, the Jackets had the Redhounds right where they wanted them. Middlesboro outscored Corbin 78-56 over the final three quarters as they went on to an 86-80 win to advance to Friday’s semifinals.
The impressive comeback was eerily similar to Middlesboro comeback win over Bell County in the first round of the 52nd District Tournament last week. When push came to shove, the Jackets overwhelmed Corbin with their team speed and overall athleticism.
It was a balanced effort for the Jackets as senior Blake Davis came off the bench to score a career-high 22 points and lead five players in double figures. Donnie Foister finished with 20 points, Austin Poindexter 18, Micheal Wilson 12 and Zach Riddle 11 in the win.
“You’ve got Davis stepping up and knocking down big shots — Their pressure wasn’t able to hurt us as well as Wilson was taking care of the basketball and breaking down their defense. He had a great floor game and it just opened it up for everyone,” Middlesboro coach Russell Thompson said. “Everyone produced and everyone knew their roles going in and they all executed them with succcess.”
Thompson added that going in, he wasn’t sure what kind of effort he would be getting from his team.
“To be honest with you, I ususally feel like I’ve got a pretty good read on my team, but tonight I didn’t know. Did they want to keep pushing this thing further, or would they settle with what all we’ve accomplished? Because I felt like we have accomplished a lot. Especially with the way we got beat in the district tournament, it would have been easy for them to hang their head and say they’ve done enough,” he said. “But no, something clicked there in the second quarter and they started seeing how much fun they have together. What a special group this is. They’ve put in the time and effort over the three years I’ve been here and it didn’t look like they were going to be denied by anybody tonight.”
Corbin was led by sophomore forward Trevor Hill’s 17 points. The Redhounds also got 16 off the bench from Kevin Goins while Hunter Grubbs added 13, Kaleb Maguet 12 and Robby Igo 11.
Hill, Grubbs, Goins and Maguet all hit 3s in the first quarter as the Hounds jumped out to that 24-8 lead. But Middlesboro was able to use their pressure defense to get Corbin out of their comfort zone, and started converting in transition to get back in the game.
“We came out to a big lead and in hindsight that was one of the things that hurt us,” said Corbin coach Tony Pietrowski. “I thought we let our guard down about the beginning of the second quarter. We let them get to the rim and we let them start offensive rebounding — two things we really felt we needed to take away from them — and they just fed off of it.”
Davis and Foister hit two 3s apiece in the second period with Davis’ second one cutting the lead to 35-28 and that was the score at halftime.
Those two combined for 11 points as the Jackets opened the third quarter on a 13-6 run to tie the game 41 midway through the period. The lead went back-and-forth for a few possessions until another Davis 3 put Middlesboro up 47-45.
Foister and Poindexter followed with transition baskets the Jackets went on to open up a 57-49 lead going into the fourth.
“We started playing our game and they started rushing some shots a little bit. I felt like were rebounding and were able to get into transition,” Thompson said. “We like to push the ball, we like to run, and they were getting to the rim there in the second half and finishing strong. They were finding open teammates and that’s fun basketball. These guys play hard and it’s exciting to coach and exciting to watch.”
The Redhounds didn’t fold and rallied to tie the game at 75 on a three-point play by Grubbs with 1:41 to play. But Poindexter answered by hitting a free throw and then added a layup off a long feed from Wilson.
Missed free throws cost the Jackets dearly in their district championship loss to Harlan County. Monday, they didn’t wait around to let the game be decided at the line.
Poindexter corralled a loose ball in the lane on the defensive end and got it ahead to a Davis for a layup. Davis then stole the ball in the backcourt, drove the lane and and left a lob at the rim for Poindexter to throw down and it was 82-75 with 45 seconds to go.
“The difference in the second half was our inability to get any kind of shutdown on their penetration and when they did miss we didn’t rebound it well. You’re not going to beat a lot of high school teams giving up 85,” Pietrowski said. “(Middlesboro) just put themselves in a position to win and hit some shots late. They played well, they’ve got a talented team and they’ll be a tough out no matter who they play in the next round.”
The Jackets hit four of eight free throws down the stretch as they went on to win by six.
Corbin ends the season with a record of 24-7 that includes a fifth straight 50th District championship .
“I feel bad for my kids because I know they’ll look back on this and feel like they disappointed our fan base or didn’t accomplish all that they should have,” Pietrowski added. “But coming into this year we were ranked low in the region and really had no expectations. When we get time to heal and rest, I think we’ll look back and feel good about the success we had.”
Middlesboro (16-13) advances to play Clay County in the semifinals on Friday at 6:15 p.m.. The Tigers got past Barbourville 91-64 in Monday’s late first round game.
“Both Clay County and Barbourville are excellent teams that are well-coached,” Thompson said before knowing which team the Jackets would be facing. “We want to keep going in this thing and I feel like if we keep doing the things we’re capable of doing for four quarters, we’re going to be tough to beat. I believe in my guys and they believe in each other so we’re going to keep working and see how far we can take it.”
— — —
Middlesboro…8…20…29…29 — 86
Corbin…………24…11…14…31 — 80
MIDDLESBORO (86): Donnie Foister 20, Michael Wilson 12, Zach Riddle 11, Derek Smith 3, Boone Bowling 0, Blake Davis 22, Austin Poindexter 18, Major Edwards 0, Seth Barton 0, Brandon Hale 0.
CORBIN (80): Trevor Hill 17, Hunter Grubbs 13, Kaleb Maguet 12, Robby Igo 11, Zach Farley 9, Kevin Goins 16, Joey Shelton 2, Taylor Waddle 0, Zach Henson 0.