OKOLONA - Who says you need to play a solid 32 minutes to win an important district basketball game?
The Bullitt Central Cougars came up well short of that goal on Tuesday, but a really strong four minutes worked out just fine for coach Joe Pat Lee’s team. Bullitt Central ended Tuesday’s contest at Southern with an 11-to-1 run, rallying for a 46-43 victory.
The win moved Bullitt Central to 3-3 while Southern dropped to 2-2.
For the past month, Lee had been telling anyone who would listen that the most important game of the first month of the season was this one. Some might have thought it was coach speak, but Lee had his points.
The coach felt that this is the swing game that could get his team out of playing on the opening night of the 24th District Tournament for the first time in five years. The fourth- and fifth-seeded teams play on that Monday night. By beating Southern, Bullitt Central can now get the third seed with a win at North Bullitt next month and could go higher if they can pull off home wins in February against either Fairdale or Bullitt East.
That would set up a bigger tourney game that will be played at Bullitt Central in late February.
Unfortunately, the Cougars did not come into this game at full strength. Starting guard John Sullivan did not dress for the contest because of a concussion suffered the previous weekend. One of the team’s top reserves, Randy Hurst, was dressed, but not really ready for action as he recovers from a dislocated shoulder.
Those injuries limited what Bullitt Central could do in terms of substitutions, meaning they were limited in the pressure they could apply and the speed at which they could play.
Still, Bullitt Central had a 23-18 lead at halftime, but then suffered through a horrible third quarter in which the Trojans had an 18-3 scoring advantage. That put the home team up 36-26.
But in the fourth quarter Bullitt Central could throw caution to the wind and play the game for 87-feet. The team’s full-court pressure forced Southern into some mistakes and the more frantic pace suits the Cougars better than a half-court game.
“For four minutes in the fourth quarter we got up and got in transition and started making shots” Lee said outside his team’s locker room after the game. “We were getting looks, but not hitting. We had to press. We did a good job defensively the last few minutes of the game.”
After Southern had taken its biggest lead of the game on a basket by Elliott Priestly at 38-26 to open the fourth quarter, the Cougars responded with nine straight points. The last six of those points came on a pair of three-pointers by junior Ryan Schnellenberger who suddenly had the hot hand.
Still, after pulling within 38-35 with 4:56 remaining, the Cougars went cold from the floor again. Southern scored the next four points as Bullitt Central went nearly three minutes without a basket. Finally, the dryspell was broken on a basket by point guard Caleb Craddock in the land. That began a late run that would see the Cougars outscore their district rivals 11-1 over the final two minutes.
Two free throws by Miciah Ocasio made it a 42-39 game with 1:39 remaining and then Craddock stole the ball on the other end. The junior guard dribbled quickly up the left side of the court before shifting across the foul lane and drawing the defense to him. That left Schnellenberger open in the left corner and his three-pointer tied the score at 42-42 at the 1:14 mark.
Southern’s final lead came with 49 seconds remaining when Myron Goodall hit one of two free throws. Bullitt Central did not wait for any final shot. Instead, Craddock drove straight for the basket for a lay-up at :40. At the other end, Goodall picked up his fifth foul on a charge call.
Bullitt Central’s final points came when Damon Shepherd hit two free throws with 20 seconds remaining. Southern’s 6-foot-6 center Patrick Hursley tried a three-pointer that came up short and despite Schnellenberger missing two free throws, the Trojans’ half-court shot at the buzzer was well off the mark.
“Caleb did a nice job getting the ball to Schnellenberger,” Lee pointed out. “Caleb looked some guys off and that left Schnellenberger open.”
Scoring three points in the third quarter was one of the low points so far this season for the Cougars.
“We didn’t make shots and then that leads us to not play defense,” Lee noted. “We had good shots, but they didn’t go in.
“The kids showed how tough they are by coming back,” the coach added. “We’ll take it and be happy at 1-0 in the district. That’s what counts.”
Schnellenberger, who had four three-pointers in the game, was the leading scorer in the contest as he finished with 21 points. Craddock added ten points.
Southern’s Randall Pickett was the only player on his team to reach double-diguts as he collected 14 points. No other Southern player had more than seven points.
Another key point for the Cougars was that while their percentage was not very good, the Cougars did make 15 of 25 free throw attempts. That was well ahead of the six of 13 mark Southern at the charity stripe.
Bullitt Central did not have a game scheduled late last week. That turned out to be good because of the poor weather conditions that canceled school on Thursday and Friday. The Cougars will be return to action on Monday at 5:30 p.m. when they take on Collegiate in the first-round of the Sarah Major Barger Holiday Tournament at North Bullitt.
Lee said that he expects both Sullivan and Hurst to be ready to play in that three-day event.
BULLITT CENTRAL 46 (10-13-3-20) Miciah Ocasio 5, Caleb Craddock 10, Damon Shepherd 7, Ryan Schnellenberger 21, Luke Whitmore 1, Aaron Duckett 2.
SOUTHERN 43 (10-8-18-7) Almanza 2, Pickett 14, Goodall 5, Hursley 6, Armstrong 7, Priestley 7, Blevins 2.