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BUCKNER - There was no shortage of experience on the floor Tuesday as two of the most successful basketball programs in Kentucky over the past two seasons collided at Oldham County High School.
Both Bullitt East and Oldham County are two-time defending regional champions. A year ago, the Colonels reached the semi-finals of the state tournament equaling what the Chargers had done the year before.
One reason teams like these two have a lot of wins is that they know how to protect their home court. Bullitt East did that last year, beating the Colonels xx-xx in Mount Washington.
On Tuesday, the Chargers made the return trip to a familiar haunt from the days when both programs were in the Eighth Region. There, the two teams put on a defensive showcase before Bullitt East scored six of the game's final eight points to secure a 50-43 victory.
The win was the sixth in a row to start the season for the Chargers heading into the toughest in-state stretch of games during the regular season.
The tight finish was no surprise to veteran Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr.
"I told them that before the game that it would be difficult to win here," the coach said after the game. "Oldham County proved that to us."
Still, Barr was disappointed that his team did not seize the opportunity to put the Colonels away early in the second half when they were up 30-19. Twice in the fourth quarter the Chargers pushed the lead to nine points, the last coming when Derek Willis converted a three-point play to push the lead to 43-34.
Over the next 90 seconds, Oldham County got a basket from Garrett Masters and then two free throws from Masters before Bullitt East point guard Trey Rakes hit one of two free throws. At the 2:34 mark, the Colonels' Sam Gruber nailed his third three-pointer of the game to pull the home team within 44-41.
Bullitt East did a good job running almost a minute off the clock, but then Willis missed a shot inside. After a time-out, Oldham County worked it inside to Masters, but he missed under pressure and then committed his fifth foul on the rebound at 1:18. Rusty Troutman then hit one of the two shots in the double-bonus.
The final push by Oldham County included two chances. The Colonels rebounded an quick miss and then play was halted momentarily for an injured Oldham County player. When play resumed, Troutman made a steal outside and then flipped the ball head to Willis for a fast-break dunk that put the game out of reach with 48 seconds remaining.
Oldham County did get two free throws from Masters at :34, but then Bullitt East hit three of four free throws to account for the final score.
"We didn't change anything," Barr said of the style of play in the second half. "We lost our minds a little bit there with our decision making. They haven't been in that situation much this year. It happens, even with experienced teams."
Barr would like to see his team keep the pedal to the metal.
"We just didn't do a good job when we had the lead," the coach said. "We'd get a little lead and then let them back in it.
"We had them on the ropes a few times," Barr pointed out. "They turned our turnovers into points tonight. "That's what we need to do."
Willis paced Bullitt East with 19 points and fellow Mr. Basketball candidate Rusty Troutman had 17.
Bullitt East has made a few changes recently at the offensive end, letting Willis step out and face the basket instead of posting up all the time.
"We're just trying to get him to face the basket a little more," Barr explained. "It's apparent that officials aren't going to call the pushes in the back. So instead of me complaining, we'll have him face the basket more."
Oldham County got ten points from Masters in the game as well as nine pints from Gruber. The Colonels connected on six three-pointers, but they were only five of ten from the foul line.
Each team had only five players score in the contest.
Bullitt East's final free throw numbers looked acceptable at 13 of 19, but the Chargers missed some key chances down the stretch.
"We did with free throws what we did the rest of the game," Barr said. "We hit the first one and then we relaxed. It's mental toughness."
Bullitt East played this game without senior forward Chris Embry who suffered a pulled groin muscle in the previous win over Spencer County. He could miss another week of action, but Barr is hoping to have him starting on Thursday for the King of the Bluegrass Tournament at Fairdale.
The Chargers played at Valley on Saturday against Madison Central, the state's fourth ranked team in the Thornton's Gas Showcase. Bullitt East will be off early this week before starting play on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the King of the Bluegrass Tournament.
At Oldham County
BULLITT EAST 50 (15-9-12-14) Trey Rakes 5, Rusty Troutman 17, Hunter Noffsinger 7, Derek Willis 19, Ezra Troutman 2.
OLDHAM COUNTY 43 (7-10-12-14) Gruber 9, Masters 10, Lape 8, Johnson 3, Hicks 4.