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FAIRDALE - A meltdown over the final 90 seconds of the first half put the Bullitt East Chargers behind the eight ball and the red and gold could never recover on Tuesday in the semi-finals of the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Tournament at Fairdale High School.
Battling fellow Sixth Region rival Butler, a team that they had beaten 60-50 just two weeks earlier, the Chargers struggled mightily with their shooting, making just 33 percent of their shots from the field including a woeful three of 22 performance from behind the three point line, making it possible for the Bears to escape with a 62-53 win.
Bullitt East not only struggled from the field shooting the ball, but a team that was one of the top-three free throw shooting teams in the state last season missed ten of 26 chances in this game.
It never was a good night for the Chargers. They were within 23-22 late in the first half before Butler scored the final nine points of the second quarter. That total included five points scored in the final two seconds of the half.
In the second half, Bullitt East managed to get within 47-43 early in the fourth quarter and the red and gold closed to 56-51 and at the foul line with 1:37 to play only to miss both shots, allowing Butler to seal the win at the foul line.
It was obvious that the Chargers were not totally ready for the rematch against a Butler squad that seemed to take the earlier loss personally.
“We were not ready to play basketball tonight,” Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr said after a long meeting with his team behind closed doors. “you knew that was the case in the first four minutes. We missed lay-ups and we missed assignments on defense.”
The night before, Barr had commented that Butler would have an advantage as head coach Shawn Purlee could play the revenge card.
“That’s typical,” Barr said after the loss. “That always works for teams. That gives you an edge. They knew they had to play better. They played better and we played worse.”
The end of the first half was just typical of the evening for the Chargers. After battling back to within a point of the Bears, Bullitt East gave up nine points over the final 90 seconds. The worst part came at the end when Butler’s Jalen Palm drilled a three-pointer just before the buzzer while at the same time Barr was being whistled for a technical foul.
With no time on the clock, Butler’s Demetrius McReynolds hit two free throws to push the margin to 32-22.
“That was crucial,” Barr said of the end of the half. “We don’t get into any offensive sets at the end and then we turn it over. Then I’ll never understand the technical.”
Butler pushed the lead out to 12 points in the third quarter and the Bears were still up 45-37 starting the fourth quarter. Despite the offensive struggles, the Chargers made a couple of runs down the stretch.
The first came moments into the fourth quarter when Kory Caufield got into the lane and scored as he was fouled. He hit the free throw and on the inbounds play, junior Chris Embry stepped in front of the pass and went in for a lay-up that sliced the lead to 47-43 and forced Butler to call a time-out with 6:48 remaining.
Butler pushed back ahead by nine points before Rusty Troutman hit a short jumper and then connected on two foul shots with 1:49 remaining to make it 56-51. Bullitt East got the ball back, but then missed two free throws. Butler connected on six of eight free throws in the final 1:21 to seal the win.
No team is going to hit every shot, but Barr was upset with the shots his team was taking.
“It’s the type shots we took. We settled for contested shots,” the coach said. “It was the wrong guys taking shots at the wrong times.
“We’re a good shooting team and we’ll bounce back,” Barr said. “We have to learn from this. We think that hitting threes will cover our ills, but when you don’t hit them, it magnifies your weaknesses.”
Derek Willis led Bullitt East with 17 points and Troutman had 15, but no other Charger player had more than eight points.
Butler countered with four players in double-figures led by Palm and McReynolds with 15 points each. Brent Woodford, who doesn’t normally score a lot for the Bears, added 14 points while Monty Harbin came off the bench to add ten points.
Butler shot 56 percent from the field, but did struggle at the foul line by making only 11 of 20 chances.
The two teams are not scheduled to play again during the regular season, but they could see each other in the Louisville Invitational Tournament in mid-January.
King of the Bluegrass Holiday Tournament at Fairdale HS
BULLITT EAST 53 (12-10-15-16) Trey Rakes 3, Rusty Troutman 15, Kory Caufield 8, Elliot young 2, Chris Embry 6, Derek Willis 17, Reese Hardin 2.
BUTLER 62 (10-22-13-17) Jalen Palm 15, Monty Harbin 10, Rashawn Farrell 2, Brent Woodford 14, Demetrius McReynolds 15, Andrew Phillips 3, Jared Stewart 2, Tre’ Hayden 1.