LEXINGTON - Bullitt East’s magic carpet ride of a season was shot down on Saturday morning by Rowan County in the semi-finals of the 2011 PNC/KHSAA Boys’ State Basketball Tournament - literally.
Connecting on 10 three-pointers, Rowan County got the early advantage and then held off a late Bullitt East rally for a 51-49 victory.
Rowan County junior Adam Wing, who had made just nine of his 20 shots (two of eight from beyond the arc) in the first two games of the tournament, was perfect from the field, connecting on five three-pointers and a pair of two-pointers to shoot down the Chargers with his 19 points while also pulling down nine rebounds.
The Vikings led from the start as their first four baskets were bombs from beyond the arc. The Chargers got back to within 24-19 by halftime, but as the red and gold struggled to find their shooting, Rowan County pushed out to a 48-33 advantage with 4:12 remaining. Bullitt East made a spirited comeback, but could get no closer than the final score that came on a three-pointer by senior Hayden Sweat just before the buzzer.
“I’m really proud of my basketball team,” Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr said after his team bowed out of the big show with a 30-6 record. “We ran into a Rowan County team that shot the ball very well.
“You look at the stat sheet and both teams had 43 shots,” the coach added. “They made 20 and we hit 19. That’s the difference in a two-point game.”
Rowan County advanced to Saturday night’s state championship game where they were to face Christian County, a team that Bullitt East defeated 62-52 in the King of the Bluegrass Tournament in December. Christian County won that final game 65-63 over the Vikings in double overtime.
“I’m excited,” Rowan County head coach Shawn Thacker said minutes after the game. “We withstood a super comeback. We turned it over some and missed some front ends. I’ll take my chances with these guys.”
Wing, who will be one of the top football players in the state in the fall, was the difference in the game.
“Early in the warm-ups I felt good,” the 6-4 Wing said. “I wasn’t trying to show-off like I do sometimes with dunks. I looked over at DJ (Townsend) and said it would be a good day.”
Rowan County had shot 25 percent on three-pointers in the first two games of the state tourney.
“I’ve had coaches tell me we’re not that good on threes,” Thacker said. “Our percentage has been good because we have good shooters, but we haven’t had to do that a lot. We don’t have to live and die like that.”
“The two teams in the state final, we beat one by ten and lost to the other by two,” Barr noted. “That’s pretty good.”
Bullitt East opened the game in a 2-3 zone defense that was ineffective against the Vikings. A switch to a man-to-man and a later some diamond-and-one defenses did slow down Rowan County to some extent.
“I was thinking I made a poor judgment for the defense we were in,” Barr said. “They hadn’t hit many threes the first two games. Their shooting percentage was not outstanding.
“It was a mistake on my part,” the coach added. “We have been a good man-to-man team. I should have stuck with it.
“Adam Wing is a great basketball player, but I wonder how many times he went five-for-five (on threes)?” Barr wondered. “We took a chance and got burned.”
For all the struggles that Bullitt East went through on Saturday, they still had the determination and heart to make a run at the end. The red and gold were pretty much dead in the water when they trailed 48-33 when Rowan County called a time-out with 4:12 remaining.
Suddenly, the Chargers connected on back-to-back three-pointers from Sweat and then Trey Rakes after missing five of their previous six shots in the quarter. Neither team scored for the next 50 seconds before Rakes hit on two free throws at 2:45 that made it 48-41.
Bullitt East was pressing all over the floor at this point and Rowan County did beat that defense for a lay-up by Corey Hunter. The red and gold missed a pair of three-pointers, but then Washburn stole a long inbounds pass and fed Rusty Troutman for a three-pointer at 1:31.
Rowan County was forced to use a timeout and then Wing threw the ball away at mid-court. Bullitt East worked the ball inside and with 45 seconds remaining, Washburn tipped in his own miss to narrow the gap to 50-46.
Unfortunately, the Chargers got stuck on 46. Three times the Vikings missed the front end of the bonus - twice by Wing. Bullitt East turned it over after the first miss and then missed a three-pointer at :22. At :09, Darrell Cross missed the front end again, but the Chargers failed to rebound the miss.
Townsend hit one free throw at :07 and then Sweat connected on the three-pointer, but with no time-outs remaining, the Chargers could not stop the clock.
Twice during the regular season Bullitt East had pulled victory from the jaws of defeat to beat both Bullitt Central and DeSales. Barr said that his team was still thinking win when they were down at halftime and again early in the fourth quarter.
“That’s just us,” Barr said. “We felt like we had a chance to win this game even when we were down 13 of 14 (15 actually). We should have started pressing them earlier, but they got up early.”
The night before in the quarter-final win over Marshall County, the Marshals hit four straight three-pointers in the fourth quarter to make a game of it late before Bullitt East won. Barr used that rally in reverse to try and push his Chargers in the fourth quarter.
“We talked about the Marshall County game and said let’s be Marshall County and see what we can do,” the coach said. “We had some chances. We could have won that game if we convert a few shots.”
Bullitt East ended up shooting 44 percent for the game to 47 percent for the Vikings. Rowan County made just one of eight free throws (BE was five of six), but they had four more three-pointers.
On Saturday, for the first time in the post-season, this young Charger team made some mistakes that you would associate with a squad that starts three sophomores.
“They did,” Barr said of a group that scored just 18 points along with seven turnovers. “Not to be specific, but they played like young kids on a big stage. That happens. They will be juniors next year and they won’t be like that.”
Bullitt East’s two seniors led the way. Washburn finished with 16 points and six rebounds while Sweat had 15 points and three assists.
Washburn finished with 63 points in the Chargers’ three tournament games.
“Corey Washburn has grown up a lot this year,” Barr said. “I’m proud of him. He played a whale of a tournament. He rebounded and played defense and scored the ball.”
After the game, Washburn and sophomore Derek Willis, who had 31 rebounds in the three games, were named to the All-Tournament squad.
“Rowan County is a great team,” Barr concluded. “My hat is off to them. If they shoot like that, they will win the state championship tonight.”
Boys’ State Tourney
At Rupp Arena
BULLITT EAST 49 (9-10-12-18) Derek Willis 4, Corey Washburn 16, Trey Rakes 8, Rusty Troutman 6, Hayden Sweat 15.
ROWAN COUNTY 51 (16-8-18-9) Adam Wing 19, Jason Egan 9, Corey Hunter 6, DJ Townsend 9, Darrell Cross 8.