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MOUNT WASHINGTON - 1,100 miles in eight days from one end of the state to the other without the state’s top-ranked player available for two games.
It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the Bullitt East Chargers made the best of a tough situation, ending the first week of the regular season with two more wins against two of the state’s top-10 teams.
It was on Nov. 24 that Bullitt East traveled to far eastern Kentucky, near the Virginia state line for a scrimmage. After stopping at home just lone enough to defeat Lafayette on the following Monday, coach Troy Barr’s team went to Lexington and beat Henry Clay by three points. That road trip continued to far western Kentucky for a Saturday game against Hopkinsville in the prestigious Marshall County Hoopfest.
Bullitt East beat Henry Clay 58-55 in the Mr. Basketball Classic, despite not having leading Mr. Basketball candidate Derek Willis available as he had to sit out two games after being ejected in the second half of the win over Lafayette. Willis also missed the game on Saturday as the Chargers beat Hopkinsville 78-65.
That action left the Chargers with a 3-0 record with all three wins coming against top-20 foes.
“We’re really happy with the way we performed,” Barr said after the team got back to Mount Washington. “We could have made excuses, but we just got I done. I’m proud of them.”
Without Willis for the last two wins, the Chargers tweaked a few things and then let seniors Rusty Troutman and Trey Rakes handle the heavy lifting. The two have started pretty much ever game since they were freshmen.
“They just know how to win,” Barr said of the two seniors. “Their basketball IQ is high. They know how to help the team. That experience is invaluable.”
When you have the state’s top player and a University of Kentucky signee in Willis, a lot of your offense is designed to go through him. The Chargers just made a few changes and went on with their business.
“Offensively we didn’t run some sets,” Barr said. “We have sets dictated by Derek touching the ball.
“We just let the kids play,” the coach added. “We let them play and feed off each other. We played two teams that were trapping a lot. We made good decision and that is what we do well.”
No coach can expect to go through any season without a player missing a game here or there. Troutman missed a game last season with the flu. It happens.
“We know we’re a good basketball team no matter if someone sits out for foul trouble or injuries. Still, it will be nice to have him back.”
Bullitt East’s 6-7 forward Elliott Young missed most of last season with an injury, but his return is progressing well.
“He had a big game against Hopkinsville with 12 points and ten rebounds,” Barr pointed out. “He filled in for Derek on the glass. That is nice. He is pain free and that is the main thing.”
The big weekend started for the Chargers on Thursday in Lexington at Tates Creek High School where former Bullitt Central player Wayne Breeden is the head coach. He brought his team to Mount Washington last season and this was the return trip even though the Chargers took on Henry Clay in the two-game showcase event.
Bullitt East trailed 29-26 at halftime to the state’s 8th-ranked team in the pre-season, but then went on a 22-6 surge in the third quarter. Still, the team had to hang on at the end as Henry Clay pulled within three points before the Chargers won 58-55.
Troutman pitched in a team high 19 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Rakes finished with 12 points.
Trey Grundy, one of the state’s top juniors, led the Blue Devils with 16 points.
Bullitt East then headed west, going al the way to the state line to compete on Saturday afternoon in the Marshall County Hoopfest against Hopkinsville, the pre-season number seven team in the state.
The Chargers did trail 15-14 after one quarter, but then outscored Hopkinsville in each of the last three quarters. The Tigers never got closer than six points in the fourth quarter.
Troutman had another huge game as for the second time in three games he scored 32 points and he also pulled down ten rebounds. Rakes tossed in 15 points including a big three-pointer midway through the fourth quarter. Young had the 12 points and ten rebounds.
Bullitt East also got nine points from sophomore Hunter Noffsinger, who transferred from Muhlenburg County.
“He is trying to bide his time and see where he fits in,” Barr said. “He feels good about his spot. He played well against Hopkinsville.”
With Rakes and Noffsinger doing a lot of the ball handling, the Chargers turned the ball over only nine times in the win over Hopkinsville and there were only two turnovers in the second half.
Bullitt East also kept a safe lead on Saturday as they made 25 of 31 at the foul line including a 14 of 16 mark in the final frame.
After all of that time on the road last week, Bullitt East will get to play two games at home this week. After taking on Sixth Region rival Butler on Tuesday, the red and gold will play a rare Friday night game at home when they take on neighboring Spencer County in a boys’ JV/varsity doubleheader that will start at 6 p.m.
At Tates Creek HS
Mr. Basketball Classic
BULLITT EAST 58 (14-12-22-10) Trey Rakes 12, Rusty Troutman 19, Elliott Young 9, Hunter Noffsinger 7, Ezra Troutman 2, Derek Jones 7, Chris Embry 2.
HENRY CLAY 55 (10-19-6-20) Grundy 16, Green 9, Tisdale 6, Newby 4, Cunningham 4, Ware 12, Tichenor 4.
At Marshall County HS
Marshall Co. Hoopfest
BULLITT EAST 78 (14-19-19-26) Tyler Sharpe 3, Trey Rakes 15, Rusty Troutman 32, Rhett Troutman 2, Hunter Noffsinger 9, Derek Jones 2, Elliott Young 12, Chris Embry 1, Tyler Bacon 1, Ezra Troutman 1.
HOPKINSVILLE 65 (15-13-16-21) Edwards 16, Elam 11, Majors 24, Matlock 4, Davis 6, Bell 2, Pager 2.