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HODGENVILLE - For the second time in as many holiday tournaments, the Bullitt Central Cougars posted a 2-1 record last week in the National Guard Holiday Classic at LaRue County.
This time, the record put the Cougars in third place after they beat Taylor County 71-44 on Thursday, the final night of the 8-team event. The Cougars opened with a 68-57 win over Washington County before falling to the host team 59-43 in the semi-finals.
Bullitt Central head coach Joe Pat Lee thinks the 7-5 overall record could be better, but he is encouraged with most of the things he saw from his team in the two holiday tournaments.
“We’re not exactly where we thought we would be, but we’ll take it,” the veteran coach said following the win over Taylor County. “We’ve lost a couple of games we thought we should have won. I’m thinking we should only have three losses at this point.
“Still, going 4-2 in the tourneys, we’ll take it,” the coach added. “This group is still learning how to win. The coaches have confidence in them. Every win builds confidence with these guys. I’m very pleased with the effort. We just have to go back to fundamentals on defense.”
One big plus for the National Guard event was the return of junior guard John Sullivan who had missed the previous four games with a concussion. The Cougars are not very deep and the return of Sullivan helped the depth situation a great deal. Sullivan scored 27 points with eight three-pointers in the three games at LaRue County.
Bullitt Central picked up the third-place trophy with one of their best shooting nights of the season against Taylor County. The Cougars found the range on 12 three-pointers including seven in the first half when they raced out to a 34-20 advantage.
Lee’s team built the margin up to 29 points in the second half before coasting to the seventh win of the season.
“What is great about making that many threes was that we really passed it well,” the coach said. ‘We didn’t dribble a lot and we got it inside and they passed out and the three and we hit those.
“The kids listened tonight and followed the game plan,” Lee noted.
Bullitt Central jumped out to an 18-7 lead after the first quarter and never looked back.
“Getting off to a good start is huge for us,” Lee pointed out. “If your offense is clicking then the defense picks up. Defense is our soft spot. It helps us to start well and then we want to play defense so we can go play offense.”
Junior point guard Caleb Craddock had his second big game of the tournament as he finished with 32 points against Taylor County. Almost half of those points came from long-range as he connected on five three-pointers.
Craddock was named the National Guard Player of the Game as well as making the All-Tournament team.
A night earlier, the Cougars were within three points of LaRue County heading into the fourth quarter, but then hit a wall. Over the last eight minutes of the game, the maroon and gray were outscored 18-5 leading to the 59-43 loss.
Bullitt Central made just 16 of 50 shots and converted only seven of 20 foul shots.
“We settled for jump shots that weren’t falling,” Lee said. “We are not good enough to shoot 32 percent and miss 13 foul shots and still win.”
Craddock has 17 points in the win, but no other Cougar reached double digits.
In the opening game of the tournament on Tuesday, the Cougars got a powerful one-two punch from Craddock and fellow junior Ryan Schnellenberger to roll past Washington County.
Schnellenberger finished with 28 points and 14 rebounds while Craddock had a rare triple double with 12 points, 13 assists and ten rebounds. The Cougars also got 11 points from Sullivan.
“We played a really good first half and outscored them 29-14 in the second quarter,” Lee recalled. “Then we had a tough stretch in the third and four quarter where we didn’t defend very well and (we) let them back in the game.”
Bullitt Central won’t have much time to rest as they have a key game on Tuesday of this week as they play host to 24th District rival Fairdale. The girls’ game will start at 6 p.m. with the boys’ contest to follow at around 7:30 p.m.
At LaRue County
BULLITT CENTRAL 68 (12-29-13-14) Miciah Ocasio 9, Caleb Craddock 12, Damon Shepherd 6, Ryan Schnellenberger 28, John Sullivan 11, Corey Smith 2.
WASHINGTON COUNTY 57 (12-14-13-18) Abell 6, Connor 8, Simms 8, Purdon 22, Kelty 6, Marshall 5, Coulter 2.
BULLITT CENTRAL 43 (8-17-13-5) Miciah Ocasio 1, Caleb Craddock 17, Damon Shepherd 4, Ryan Schnellenberger 9, Luke Whitmore 2, John Sullivan 7, Corey Smith 3.
LARUE COUNTY 59 (11-18-12-18) Meredith 11, Sheeran 6, Whitlock 13, Ford 18, Parr 4, Reynolds 7.
BULLITT CENTRAL 71 (18-16-17-20) Miciah Ocasio 4, Caleb Craddock 32, Damon Shepherd 9, Ryan Schnellenberger 7, Luke Whitmore 2, John Sullivan 9, Aaron Duckett 3, Randy Hurst 2, Kevin Ford 3.
TAYLOR COUNTY 44 (7-13-9-15) Wells 3, Wiggenton 12, Newton 1, Webster 12, Irvin 8, Seaborne 7, Wheatley 1.