South Warren isn’t typically a full-court defensive team. But coach Blaine Embry felt like that type of defense was his team’s best chance Monday to slow Clinton County and star player Jackson Harlan.
“I told the guys all year long, ‘You’ve got to have something like that,’ ” Embry said. “If you get in a tournament or get behind, you’ve got to have something you can go to that can cause problems for the other team. Luckily tonight, it did.”
That pressure defense harassed the Bulldogs for the final three quarters of a 65-57 Spartans win Monday at SWHS.
The Spartans (13-14) trailed 22-16 at the end of the first quarter and by nine early in the second before ramping up a full-court press.
South Warren got back to within 31-30 by halftime, then pulled away late by outscoring Clinton 19-10 in the final quarter. The home team avenged a 66-52 loss to the Bulldogs (20-7) from Dec. 20.
“Give them credit for doing something that teams haven’t really been able to do to us this year,” Clinton County coach Todd Messer said. “Probably the most disappointing thing for us is all we’ve seen this year is box-and-chaser, triangle-and-two, run-and-jump – some kind of gimmick to get the ball out of (Harlan’s) hands.
“By far our worst job of executing on the year.”
Harlan scored a game-high 24 points for the Bulldogs, who are ranked No. 2 in the Daily News Area Top 10 Poll. The Spartans are ranked ninth.
A Western Kentucky University signee, Harlan got to the foul line 12 times Monday and hit 11 of those attempts. He also nailed three 3-pointers, but all of them came in the first half.
Harlan only scored one second-half field goal in Clinton County’s loss.
“We know that that’s coming the rest of the year,” Harlan said of South’s pressure defense. “Greenwood and Bowling Green were sitting up there watching the game. We know it’s coming, and we know how to adjust to it. We just didn’t tonight.”
Seth Stockton (15 points) and Caleb Guffey (11) joined Harlan in double-figures, but the rest of the team totaled only seven points.
The Spartans used a balanced scoring attack, with Tayshaun Jones (14 points), Jace Carver (13) and Tyler Martin (13) leading the way.
Embry was proud of the way his bench stepped up with leading scorer Martin (17.2 points per game) in foul trouble. He eventually fouled out in the fourth quarter.
“We always play nine or 10 kids,” Embry said. “They know they’re going to play. Every one of them came in and played their role, even though some of them had to guard guys that were out of their position a little bit.
“Like I said, we’re not typically a pressing team, but we did a great job of it tonight.”
Harlan named Mr. Basketball finalist
Harlan was named Monday as Region 4’s finalist for the Kentucky Mr. Basketball award. The senior guard is one of two WKU signees up for the honor, with Madison Central forward Isaiah Cozart the other.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Harlan said. “I’ve worked hard my whole career for it. I’m just blessed and humbled to be able to get it.”
Harlan committed to coach Rick Stansbury’s program last summer after lighting up the competition at a team camp. The 6-foot-5 guard signed with the Hilltoppers in November.
Talvis Franklin, WKU’s director of basketball operations, was in the stands at SWHS on Monday to watch Harlan.
“They’re going to make me 10 times the player I am right now,” Harlan said of the Toppers’ coaching staff. “Them pushing me is what I’m looking forward to the most.”
Harlan averages 24.3 ppg, shooting 43 percent from the floor, 31 percent from 3-point range and 73.7 percent from the free-throw line. He also averages 4.6 rebounds per game.
The Albany native’s scoring is down slightly from his junior year, when he averaged 26.4 ppg in 2017-18. But Messer thinks Harlan has made his game more well-rounded as he nears the end of his prep career.
“He’s much better getting down against the rim,” Messer said. “I think he gets fouled every play he goes just to be totally honest. He’s been able to play through that and still average 25 a game.
“He gets kids open shots defensively. Out front, he does a good job keeping people in front of him. He’s developing, but still, his best basketball is in the future.”
Clinton County plays at Barren County (14-13) in its final regular season game Thursday. Then it faces Cumberland County (6-20) in the first round of the District 16 Tournament on Monday at Metcalfe County.
South Warren hosts Butler County (13-10) on Friday night in its regular-season finale. Then the Spartans begin the District 14 Tournament on Monday against host Warren East (11-15).
CCHS – 22 9 16 10 – 57
SWHS – 16 14 16 19 – 65
CCHS – Harlan 24, Stockton 15, Guffey 11, Brown 6, Dearborn 1
SWHS – Jones 14, Carver 13, Martin 13, Spurrier 8, Day 7, Veltkamp 6, Harrison 2, Hill 2