LEXINGTON - A game that Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr later termed ‘a tale of two halves’ nearly turned into a tragic drama for the Chargers on Thursday in the opening game of the 2011 PNC/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen.
After riding a strong opening half from senior center Corey Washburn to a 31-21 halftime lead, the Chargers let it all slip away in the second half only to rally from a 39-38 deficit with 5:12 remaining to beat Fifth Region champion Bardstown 53-44.
Washburn, who was later named the Player of the Game, finished with 26 points, including 19 in the first half, and he had nine rebounds.
Bullitt East shot 48 percent in the first half (13 of 27), but then took just 14 shots in the second half as the Chargers continually turned the ball over, most often in the paint trying to make the extra pass. The Chargers converted just three of those 14 shots after halftime and missed 12 of 13 during one stretch, but still managed to pull out the win.
The game came down to one of Bullitt East strengths, free throw shooting, and they once again came through in tough situations. The Chargers were 16 of 19 at the line in the second half and finished 19 of 25 for the game.
“We controlled what we wanted to do in the first half,” Barr said in the interview room after the game. “Then they went to a half-court trap and we didn’t handle it well. Bardstown is athletic and they caused some turnovers. It turned into a heck of a basketball game.”
Bullitt East (29-5) had nine of its 13 turnovers in the second half.
Despite making only one basket from the field in the third quarter, a jumper by Trey Rakes (as well as scoring on five free throws), Bullitt East was still up 38-36 entering the final period. Bardstown quickly pulled even on Jordan Brewer’s basket to open the fourth quarter and it looked even darker for the red and gold when Hayden Sweat missed a wide-open lay-up on a fast-break moments later. When Brewer hit one of two free throws at the 5:12 mark, Bardstown had its only lead of the second half at 39-38.
After the game, Bardstown head coach James ‘Boo’ Brewer said that his switch to the 1-2-2 trap in the second half was the only time his team played zone defense all season.
Barr never worried that his team would rally. He pointed out a pair of situations, against Bullitt Central and then against DeSales, when the Chargers were down by at least six points in the closing minutes of the game and still rallied to win.
“We saw that a lot of this season,” the coach said of his team rallying late in games. “We’ve had two games where we were dead and won both games. These kids have a will to win and that is huge.”
Bullitt East still wasn’t scoring from the field, but they did manage three free throws from Washburn and then two from Sweat before a free throw by Cody Edelen made it 43-40. Bardstown then got the ball back, but Washburn grabbed a rebound and quickly fired the ball to Sweat who drove to the basket and then under it before laying the ball off the glass as he was fouled at the 1:51 mark. Sweat’s free throw made it 46-40.
After a basket by Anthony Myrks and then two free throws by Rakes, Bullitt East put the exclamation mark on the win when the senior duo of Sweat and Washburn teamed up again. This time it was in reverse as Sweat grabbed a rebound and fed Washburn who drove to the basket for the lay-up. Bardstown would get no closer than six points down the stretch as Bullitt East converted six of seven free throw chances over the final 1:51.
The Bullitt East victory was the first ever for a Bullitt County team in state tournament history and advanced the Chargers to Friday’s quarterfinals were they were to play Marshall County.
Bardstown (24-5) was led by Edelen who had 13 points and 15 rebounds.
While Bullitt East had shooting problems in the second half, Bardstown never did find the range. The Tigers were only 16 of 58 for the game (28 percent), but did convert 10 of 14 free throws opportunities.
“We just got tight,” Sweat said of the second half problems. “We might have relaxed too much at halftime. We just had to make some shots.”
“I knew when Hayden made that lay-up in the lane that we had it,” Washburn said. “He (Sweat) stepped up big in the second half. When he steps up, we win.”
Sweat finished with 10 points in the win with eight of those points coming in the second half. Derek Willis pulled down 12 rebounds and had nine points and forced Bardstown away from the basket with seven blocked shots.
As has been the case for much of the post-season, Bullitt East rode its five starters to the win. The five scored all the Charger points and had all the rebounds as each played at least 30 of the 32 minutes.
“Bullitt East is a very good team,” Brewer said. “They have played at the top level of teams this season. We played nobody like that and few knew about us. We really felt we could win this game.”
Boys’ State Tourney
At Rupp Arena
BARDSTOWN 44 (11-10-15-8) Chance Grundy 2, Cody Edelen 13, Anthony Myrks 12, Jordan Brewer 6, Nathan Hall 6, Treston Grundy 5.
BULLITT EAST 53 (17-14-7-15) Derek Willis 9, Corey Washburn 26, Trey Rakes 4, Rusty Troutman 4, Hayden Sweat 10.