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LEXINGTON - The Bullitt East Chargers couldn’t land a knock-put punch but they did quite well with a lot of jabs on Friday night to beat First Region champion Marshall County 71-62 in the quarter-finals of the 2011 PNC/KHSAA Boys’ State Basketball Tournament at Rupp Arena.
The second nine-point victory in as many nights moved the Chargers into the Saturday morning semi-finals, where they were to face Rowan County.
After the win, the 17th in a row for the Chargers, head coach Troy Barr came to the interview room with seniors Hayden Sweat and Corey Washburn as well as sophomore Derek Willis.
“I’m really proud of these kids,” Barr said of the three players seated next to him in front of the cameras. “I wish I could have more players up here. Rusty (Troutman) shut down a good player (First Region Player of the Year Stephen Atkinson had just six points) and Trey Rakes didn’t have a good first half, but he came back strong in the second half.
“But these three guys are why we are here,” the coach added.
Bullitt East (30-5) is playing in the state semi-finals for the first time in the program’s history.
“The feeling is indescribable,” Washburn said. “Now that we are in the final four it is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”
“It’s just a great feeling because it’s the last day of basketball in the state of Kentucky for high schools,” Sweat said. “We’ve pretty much made it as far as we can, so hopefully we can keep having fun and try to win a couple more.”
Except for the game being tied at 2-2 in the opening moments, Bullitt East led throughout the contest. The Chargers led 17-7 after the first quarter and had an 11-point lead early in the second quarter. Still, with only 10 points in the second quarter, all from Sweat and Willis, the Chargers were only on top 27-24 at halftime.
Then the Chargers jabbed again. Bullitt East scored 11 of the first 12 points of the second half, going on top 38-25 on Sweat’s three point play. Marshall County rallied once again and with the last four points of the period, pulled within 43-37 entering the final frame.
The game got even closer when the Marshals’ Blake Clark drained a three-pointer to start the final frame. Bullitt East jabbed again with a 15-2 surge that pushed them back ahead 58-42 at the four-minute mark.
Marshall County was staggered again, but countered with four straight three-pointers. Bullitt East was able to get four points from Washburn between the bombs so the Marshals were only within 62-54 when Peter Northcutt’s shot went through with 2:42 to play.
“They really didn’t shoot it well the first three quarters,” Barr said. “When you get down double digits, sometimes you relax and can hit some of those. We hit enough free throws to close them out.”
It then became pretty much a free throw shooting exercise for the Chargers. In fact, the red and gold did not convert a shot from the field over the final 3:37, but the team from western Kentucky could get no closer than five points the rest of the way. The last five-point margin came at 67-62 with just under a minute to play when Nelson hit one of two free throws, the final points for the Marshals.
For the game, Bullitt East converted on 30 of 38 chances at the foul line. Those big numbers included a 22 of 28 mark in the second half.
Bullitt East won despite the fact that Marshall County took 71 shots, a total of 33 more shots than the Chargers. Barr’s team countered that with 50 percent shooting to just 31 percent for the Marshals. Bullitt East also had a 36-34 rebounding edge.
One of the reasons that Marshall County had such an advantage in shots taken was that Bullitt East turned the ball over 18 times to just five for the Marshals.
The difference came at the foul line where the Chargers were 30 of 38 to just a 10 of 16 performance by the Marshals.
Getting into a free throw shooting contest with the Chargers is seldom good for the opposition. Sweat connected on 12 of his 13 attempts while Washburn was nine of 12 and Willis was perfect on his six free throws.
Some of Marshall County’s shooting woes could be directly traced to the defense of the 6-8 Willis. The official stat sheet only had him with five of the eight blocked shots that Bullitt East had. After the game, Barr was thinking that Willis’ actual number of blocked shots should have involved two digits, giving him a triple double to go along with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
For the second straight game in the state tournament, Bullitt East got all of its points from the starting five. Washburn led the way with 21 points and seven rebounds while Sweat scored 20 to go along with the 13 by Willis. Troutman collected 10 points while Rakes scored seven as well as handing out five assists.
Marshall County (28-7) got 20 points from Nelson along with 11 points each from Clark and Chase York.
Barr did try to substitute more during this game. He was also forced to go to the bench in the second quarter when Washburn picked up his second foul at the 7:24 mark. He did not play the rest of the first half except for the final six seconds when the Chargers had an inbounds play under their own basket and the coach sent all the starters back on the court.
Still, Willis and Rakes played 30 minutes each while Troutman and Sweat were each clocked at 29 minutes. Washburn only played 22 minutes as Brett Hatfield was on the floor for 11 minutes. Both Reese Hardin (six minutes) and Luke Francke (three minutes) provided minutes off the bench.
Boys’ State Tourney
At Rupp Arena
MARSHALL COUNTY 62 (7-17-13-25) Colby Wiseman 6, Stephen Atkinson 6, Blake Clark 11, Peter Northcutt 8, Cole Nelson 20, Chase York 11.
BULLITT EAST 71 (17-10-16-28) Derek Willis 13, Corey Washburn 21, Trey Rakes 7, Rusty Troutman 10, Hayden Sweat 20.