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LOUISVILLE - Perhaps the biggest shot in Bullitt East basketball history shouldn’t have counted, but it did, and that was all that mattered Friday as the Chargers stunned Jeffersontown 56-54 in overtime in the quarter-finals of the 2011 Boys’ Louisville Invitational Tournament.
In 30 years of basketball, the Chargers have never had a bigger win during the regular season. True, Jeffersontown was playing without two of the top players in the state, but the other Chargers were still ranked 21st in the country in one poll and came into the game as the top-ranked team in Kentucky along with Eastern.
For three quarters, Bullitt East had the better of the play against the team that had won the King of the Bluegrass Tournament back at Christmas. The red and gold Chargers were up 31-26 at halftime and pushed the margin to 39-28 early in the third quarter.
Coach Troy Barr’s team was on top 48-43 entering the fourth quarter and when Trey Rakes scored the first basket of the final frame the Chargers had a seven-point advantage. However, the red and gold would not score over the final seven minutes of regulation allowing Jeffersontown to pull even at 50-50. In fact, neither team scored in the last 2:40 of regulation.
Jeffersontown then took its only lead of the game when Desmond Dorsey scored early in the overtime. Bullitt East answered with a short jumper in the lane from Hayden Sweat and then Rakes hit two free throws. At the other end, Jeffersontown missed a three-pointer, but Daniel Ross put in the rebound to tie the game at 54-54 with 1:09 remaining.
Bullitt East ran very little time off the clock before turning it over with 54 seconds remaining. At this point Jeffersontown opted the pull the ball out and play for a final shot.
The final call had Harry Cross slicing into the lane for a shot as the clock ticked to :05. Willis came from Cross’ right side and the 6-8 sophomore blocked the shot. Rakes picked up the loose ball and raced down the court, pulling up outside the three-point arc for a shot. The ball clipped the front of the rim and fell to Willis under the basket.
In one motion, Willis flipped the ball up and off the backboard with the red glowing lights and then fell through the net as the horn sounded.
For a moment, everyone, including Willis who had grabbed the basketball as he headed toward the Bullitt East bench, thought that the game was headed for a second overtime. It wasn’t until seconds later that everyone realized that the trailing official was signaling that the basket counted.
He was probably the only one in the gym who thought Willis’ basket beat the buzzer.
“I thought it was late. Then I looked at the ref and he said it counted,” Willis said of his game-winning basket. “It was the best feeling of my life.”
It said volumes about Willis that he stayed with the play even after blocking the shot.
“I thought I would hustle down, but I was thinking a second overtime,” the talented forward said. “I just wanted to be there. I had no idea I would get the ball.”
Television replays later showed that the shot appeared to come late, but referees are not allowed to use instant replay except during the state tournament.
“I didn’t think it was good,” Barr said with a smile as the celebration continued outside the Bullitt East locker room. “the official that called it didn’t seem to have the best angle to see the light. We didn’t get one call all night so we deserved it.”
The wild finish shouldn’t overshadow one of the best performances in the program’s history. Nobody should doubt that Bullitt East deserved to win this contest.
“I really felt like we were the better team today,” Barr said. “Jeffersontown is a great team, but we outplayed them. We deserved to win it.”
Bullitt East won by connecting on 22 of 43 shots in the game and by making all seven of its free throws. The other Chargers had almost the same numbers, converting 21 of 44 shots, but they made only eight of 13 free throw chances.
The rebounding totals were just about even.
Sweat led Bullitt East with 19 points and the senior had four assists. The red and gold also got 13 points and nine rebounds from Willis along with 12 points and five rebounds from Corey Washburn.
While Barr used his bench extensively in the first half, he went almost solely with the five starters after halftime. The five starters were the only players to score for Bullitt East.
Jeffersontown answered with 19 points from Ross, an inside strong man, while Dorsey finished with 13 points.
The win moved Bullitt East into the Saturday morning semi-finals were they would get a rematch with Eastern, a team that beat them in the first-round of the King of the Bluegrass Tournament at Christmas.
At Bellarmine University
BULLITT EAST 56 (18-13-17-2-6) Trey Rakes 4, Rusty Troutman 8, Hayden Sweat 19, Derek Willis 13, Corey Washburn 12.
JEFFERSONTOWN 54 (10-16-17-7-4) Jackson 4, Barbee 2, Dorsey 13, Cross 7, Hagan 2, Russell 7, Ross 19.