MOUNT WASHINGTON - No Derek Willis, no problem for the Bullitt East Chargers.
Forced to play without the state’s top-ranked player for the final 12 minutes of the game on Monday night at home against Lexington Lafayette, the Chargers showed that they are a lot more than a one-man team as they maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way before beating the state’s 17th-ranked team 74-57.
Bullitt East led by 13 points after Willis went to the bench, but behind the big play of seniors Rusty Troutman and Trey Rakes, the Chargers never allowed Lafayette to get closer than ten points the rest of the way.
“It’s funny the way things work out sometimes,” Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr said after the game. “What could have been a bad situation for our team turned into a good situation for our team. We learned a lot about our team that with or without Derek we can beat a really good team.”
Troutman led Bullitt East with a game-high 32 points while Rakes scored 17 points and handed out eight assists.
“Rusty and Trey picked it up,” Barr said. “They have been through the battles many times. They know what it takes to win games. You can’t say enough about those two and the way they played when Derek went out.
“We’ll go on from here and try to get better,” the coach added.
Willis, who had 14 points in the game at the time, was whistled for an offensive foul on a illegal screen with 3:18 remaining in the third quarter. As he passed the official on the way back up the court, Willis was given a technical foul and then when he turned and headed back to the Bullitt East bench was given another technical foul by the same official.
The two technical fouls meant an automatic ejection for Willis (he would have been out of the game anyway as the technicals would have been his fourth and fifth fouls). Now, the 6-9 University of Kentucky signee will have to sit out the next two games, contests in which Bullitt East plays two of the state’s top-10 teams.
Lafayette’s Tranard Chester hit three of the four free throws on the technicals and on the next possession, Charles Sweat-Washington threw down a dunk that pulled the visiting Generals within 46-35, the closest the game had been since late in the first half. Bullitt East got a basket from senior Trey Rakes and later five points from Rusty Troutman to take a 53-41 lead into the fourth quarter.
Lafayette then got the first basket of the final frame to make it a 10-point contest, but they could get no closer. On the next trip down the floor, the Chargers got the ball into the hands of Troutman who connected on a three-pointer as he was fouled. Troutman didn’t make the free throw, but the Generals never got closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
In the fourth quarter, the Chargers got eight points each from Troutman and Rakes as well as three important points from another senior, Chris Embry, as they pulled away for the first win of the season.
Troutman, who has signed with Bellarmine, knew the situation without Willis.
“Me and Trey we are the team leaders,” the four-year starter said. “We talked and knew we had to do something. We picked it up from there.”
“At first it was tough on the team,” Rakes said. “We picked it up. It took a group effort. Players stepped up and we picked Derek up.”
With a deep bench this season, the Chargers didn’t need to do anything different with Willis on the bench. They just inserted a different player and did what they had been doing.
“We just put someone else in there and did the same stuff,” Rakes pointed out. “Coach did emphasize rebounding. It took a team effort and we played well tonight.”
Bullitt East got off to a somewhat slow start in this game and as Barr would say later, that is something that happened to them two days earlier in the second scrimmage at Sheldon Clark.
Still, Bullitt East had a 13-9 lead at the end of the first quarter and they never trailed in the game except at 2-0. Willis got a dunk to open the second frame, but Lafayette was still within 20-16 when they appeared to have the numbers on a fast break. Just at the final moment, Troutman came in from behind and blocked the lay-up attempt off the backboard.
That play energized the Charger faithful who had turned out in big numbers for a Monday night game. Over the final four minutes of the half, Bullitt East went on a 14-5 run that gave them a 34-21 advantage at halftime.
Early in the third quarter, the Chargers had pushed the lead all the way out to 46-27 following a three-pointer by Troutman just moments before Willis went to the bench for good.
Lafayette was a strong opening opponent for the Chargers. While the two teams had about equal size on the front line, the Generals were a lot bigger overall, something that the Chargers won’t see very often this winter as they start 6-9, 6-7 and 6-5 players in Willis, Elliott Young and Troutman.
Even with that situation, Bullitt East won the rebounding wars 33-27, led by the 11 rebounds of Young including nine of those on the offensive glass.
Just as importantly, the Chargers had only 14 turnovers, seven fewer than Lafayette.
For the game, Bullitt East connected on 25 of 52 shots including eight of 20 from beyond the arc. Troutman was seven of 11 on the outside shooting.
Lafayette junior Jackson Davis, the state’s 9th-ranked player in the pre-season coaches’ poll, led the Generals with 19 points. The visitors also got 14 points from Chester.
At Bullitt East
LAFAYETTE 57 (9-12-20-16) Sweat-Washington 6, Chester 14, Blakely 4, Davis 19, Wright 7, Trisko 7.
BULLITT EAST 74 (13-21-19-21) Trey Rakes 17, Rusty Troutman 32, Rhett Troutman 2, Derek Jones 2, Elliott Young 4, Chris Embry 3, Derek Willis 14.