LOUISVILLE - Lights Out!!
On a team where strong shooting is the norm, the Bullitt East Chargers went above and beyond expectations on Friday in the semi-finals of the Sixth Region Tournament at Bellarmine University Knight’s Hall.
Blistering the nets with 60 percent shooting for the game, the Chargers bolted to an early lead and then stayed the course in the second half as they beat Western 73-50 for the program’s first semi-final win since joining the Sixth Region in 2006.
The win moved Bullitt East (27-5), the state’s 14th-ranked team, into Monday night’s championship game where they will face Pleasure Ridge Park, the state’s 9th-ranked team.
Charger head coach Troy Barr doesn’t expect that type of shooting percentage every game, but he knows that if the team puts the ball in the right spots that they can shoot big numbers.
“The last thing I told them was to share the basketball,” the veteran coach said after the win. “That’s a key for us. If we move it around, we can get a lot of good shots. Tonight we did that and it was like shooting practice.”
Lost in the spectacular shooting display was a stout Bullitt East defense that allowed Western (17-12), ranked 17th in Kentucky, to only shoot 32 percent for the game. Battling against 6-6 senior Ryan Taylor, a player who has committed to the University of Louisville (but who has not signed and may well have to attend a prep school), the Chargers went mainly to a triangle and two defense with sophomore Rusty Troutman blanketing Taylor.
When the two teams collided in the first round of the Louisville Invitational Tournament back in January, Taylor exploded for 38 points only to have Bullitt East win 69-62. On Friday, Taylor got frustrated early and spent much of the game on the bench in foul trouble. For the game, the senior played 18 minutes and scored only 12 points on three of nine shooting with no made three-pointers.
“We just stopped Taylor from hitting threes,” Barr said. “Our guys did a fantastic job.”
In the first meeting, Troutman had his best offensive game of the season, scoring 24 points and pulling down 18 rebounds. The sophomore scored 15 points in this game, but it was his defense that was more important.
“Rusty Troutman is a great basketball player,” Barr noted. “He plays well in big games. His points and assists and rebounds are secondary to his defense. He got Taylor frustrated tonight.”
Taylor picked up his third foul with 5:47 remaining in the first half, but Bullitt East already had a 27-12 advantage by that time. Bullitt East led 21-10 after the first quarter and had a 17-point lead in the second quarter before going into the locker room up 36-21.
Bullitt East got the first basket of the game when senior Hayden Sweat drove to the basket for the first two of his 26 points. That play set the tone for the game.
“It really did,” Barr said of Sweat’s early aggressive play to the rim. “We wanted to attack. We didn’t want to fall in love with the three. We hit some threes after we drove to the basket.”
In the first half, Bullitt East made five of ten three-pointers and or the game were nine of 17 from beyond the arc. Sweat had four of those bombs while Trey Rakes had three and Rusty Troutman the other two.
Sweat expected a tougher game than this one turned out to be.
“The first time it was a tough game,” the senior said outside his team’s locker room. “I thought it would be a dog fight, but we’ll take it any way we can get it. This is less nerve wracking.”
Did he think about scoring 26 points when he went to bed on Thursday night?
“When I went to bed I just wanted to fall asleep and get some rest,” the senior admitted. “I’ll take zero points and no rebounds if we can get to state.”
With the big lead at halftime, the game really turned the way of the Chargers when Taylor bowled over Troutman 28 seconds into the third quarter for an obvious charging foul that sent him to the bench. Bullitt East answered with a basket from Sweat and then a three-pointer from the corner by Rakes for a 41-21 lead and the outcome was pretty much settled.
“Honestly, I thought we relaxed a little when he went out,” Barr said. “We wanted the easy points instead of working for it. Then we got it back.”
Bullitt East’s biggest lead was by 23 points which happened a handful of times. The first time was at 64-41.
Sweat had the 26 points for the Chargers. The senior hit 10 of 15 from the floor with the four three-pointers. The red and gold also got the 15 points from Troutman along with 12 from senior Corey Washburn and 11 by Rakes.
Bullitt East won big on a night when 6-8 sophomore Derek Willis had only two points as he did not make a shot from the floor. He did have eight rebounds while Washburn pulled down nine boards as Bullitt East held a 36-26 edge on the glass.
Western had four players score 46 of its 50 points. Taylor had his 12, the same total as LeMichael Harris and Michael Toby. Jamel Clay came off the bench and scored 10 points.
The Chargers will have three days to keep the magic going before taking on Pleasure Ridge Park on Monday.
“I don’t know if we can play any better,” Barr noted. “But I think we have one more like that in us.”
Sixth Region Tourney
At Bellarmine University
BULLITT EAST 73 (21-15-20-17) Trey Rakes 11, Rusty Troutman 15, Hayden Sweat 26, Brett Hatfield 2, Derek Willis 2, Reese Hardin 5, Corey Washburn 12.
WESTERN 50 (10-11-15-14) Julian Lurry 2, Jamel Clay 10, Michael Toby 12, Ryan Taylor 12, LeMichael Harris 12, Chris McCraw 2.