For the fourth time this season, Middlesboro found themselves in a battle as they headed into the final quarter. After a 3-pointer by Tyler Wilson at the buzzer, the Yellow Jackets entered the fourth tied with Claiborne 45-45. Middlesboro was able to create some separation near the end of the quarter and held on for a 68-65 victory on Tuesday.
“I’m really proud of our guys. We’re going through a process now of trying to learn how to win those ball games,” said Middlesboro coach Isaac Wilson. “Tonight, we executed a great deal. There were a few inbound plays that we executed perfectly, and it allowed us to secure this win. I can’t take my hat off enough to these guys.”
“We’re really young, and I know that is what people will say about us. These guys are embracing the challenge of not accepting that and holding themselves to a higher standard. If they make a mistake, they’re really hard on themselves and that’s how we become a better basketball team.”
The victory gives Middlesboro their first multiple-win season since the 2014-15 campaign. The team has found themselves in position to win multiple games this season, but the Jackets came up just short in losses to Williamsburg and Harlan earlier in the year.
“It’s very important (for us to be in those games). It’s probably the most crucial thing we will go through all year,” said Wilson. “Our kids understand that we’ve been in every single basketball game minus the second half of Harlan County. They look at our record and know that 2-6 can be quite a bit better. I think our kids feel that we could be 4-4 right now at the worst.”
In their win against Thomas Walker, Virginia, it was Rhyan Rogers that provided the spark needed to win the game. Against the Bulldogs, it was Nick Poindexter that provided the lift off the bench to help push Middlesboro to victory.
The sophomore center scored six points and grabbed several key rebounds late in the game. He also provided energy and emotion that kept Middlesboro going until the final buzzer sounded.
“Nick is a very vital key to our team. He had a little situation there where he’s kind of been in the dog house,” said Wilson. “All we’ve wanted Nick to do in my time here is to accept coaching, be coachable and learn that constructive criticism is meant because we know he’s got more or that he can be a better basketball player.”
“Him going through his punishment…has really helped him. His mindset is totally different, and I think everyone in the gym saw that tonight. Everyone saw the spark he brought for us. He was our man in the middle. He got a few nice buckets for us and a few key, crucial rebounds that helped us secure this win tonight.”
Jabari Kyle paced the Jackets offensively with 14 points, while Rogers tallied 11 points off the bench. Tanner Brush and Josh Overbay finished the game with 10 and nine points, respectively.
Hunter Rosenbalm and Houston Hatfield led the way for Claiborne. Rosenbalm finished with a game-high 17 points. Hatfield put up 16 points before the final buzzer sounded. Jacob Runions added 12 points to the scoreboard for the Bulldogs.
The game went back-and-forth throughout the first half with neither team being able to create much separation on the scoreboard. Middlesboro held a slight 32-28 lead heading into halftime.
Runions created some momentum for Claiborne early in the third. The forward hit a 3-pointer to start the second half. He hit a free throw moments later to tie the game at 32-32.
Christian Hubbard slowed the Bulldogs temporarily with two free throws that helped the Jackets take a 34-32 lead.
The Bulldogs went on an 8-0 run midway through the third. Runions scored six points during the run including a 3-pointer that gave Claiborne a 40-34 lead.
Overbay hit a long-range jumper to narrow the margin to three before Hatfield scored on a layup to give the Bulldogs a 42-37 lead. A 3-pointer from Lucas Manning gave Claiborne the biggest lead of the night at 45-37.
Middlesboro refused to go away as the Jackets finished the third quarter on an 8-0 run. Wilson capped off the run with a 3-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game at 45-45 heading into the final quarter.
Brush opened the fourth with a two-point putback to give the Jackets a 47-45 lead. Poindexter followed with a basket to increase the Middlesboro lead to 49-45 with 6:48 remaining in the game.
Ty Stone ended the Jacket run with a layup that narrowed the deficit to 49-47.
With 5:57 left in the fourth, Rogers was fouled as he attempted a 3-pointer. The sophomore knocked down two of his three free throws to give Middlesboro a 51-47 lead.
Rosenbalm scored on an old-fashion three-point play moments later to close the gap to one point with Claiborne trailing 51-50. The Jackets refused to surrender the lead with baskets from Poindexter and Rogers giving Middlesboro a 55-50 cushion with just under five minutes to play.
After trading baskets for several minutes, Rosenbalm nailed a 3-pointer that narrowed the Bulldog deficit to 60-58 with 1:21 remaining in the game.
Kyle hit two free throws to increase the Jacket lead to four points before Rosenbalm scored on the putback to cut the lead to 62-60 with 48.7 seconds remaining.
A layup and free throws from Kyle created a 65-60 lead for Middlesboro and forced the Bulldogs to foul down the stretch. Despite a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Rosenbalm, the Jackets ended the game with a three-point victory.
Middlesboro (2-6) will return to action at 4 p.m. on Tuesday when they battle cross-county foe Pineville (7-1).
Claiborne (2-9) will battle Berea (6-3) at Pineville at 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 28 in the Pine Mountain Classic.
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN