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FAIRDALE - Bullitt East’s pre-Christmas trek through some of the best teams in the state continued even in the consolation bracket of the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Tournament at Fairdale High School.
After losing to Eastern, the state’s second-ranked team, in the first round of the event, Charger head coach Troy Barr had one goal - win two games in the small gym and get back to the big room for the final day of the tournament.
After beating district rival and host team Fairdale on Monday (see the results in last Wednesday’s edition), the Chargers cleared the final hurdle on Tuesday night, jumping out to an early lead and then holding off Christian County, the state’s pre-season number three team, 62-52.
That set up a meeting in the big gym on the final day of the tournament against Warren Central, the state’s number-five team. The start was not good as the Chargers fell behind 14-0, but they made a game of it down the stretch, getting to within four points before falling 71-61.
Bullitt East finished the state’s toughest tournament with a 2-2 mark.
“We played three top-10 teams and we were competitive with all three,” Barr said following the setback to Warren Central, a loss that dropped the Chargers to 8-2 for the season. “We got one win. We learned we’re capable of getting where we want to be.”
The difference between the final two opponents in the tournament came down to match-ups.
Christian County is a smaller team that relies on quickness and shooting. Bullitt East matched up with that and did them one better, grabbing a 40-33 rebounding edge and having a much better shooting percentage.
On the other hand, Warren Central revolves around 6-6 strongman George Fant. He controlled Bullitt East’s inside game and when the Chargers got into foul trouble, Fant went off for 34 points. Bullitt East was outrebounded 29-23 in the loss.
Fant, the third-ranked player in the state in the pre-season, has already signed with Western Kentucky University.
Bullitt East center Corey Washburn, who was named to the All-Tournament team, scored 22 points and had 13 rebounds against Christian County. The senior had only six points and five rebounds, as well as five fouls, going against Fant.
Against Christian County, Bullitt East had a 15-13 lead after the first quarter, but then took control of the game with a 20-10 advantage in the second frame. The team from south-central Kentucky did get back to within four points early in the fourth quarter, but the Chargers put the game away at the free throw line.
“They didn’t have a kid like Fant so Corey had a big night,” Barr said at the end of the tourney.
Down by 12 points at halftime, Christian County tried to make up the difference from beyond the arc. The Colonels took 33 three-pointers, but made only seven. Overall, Christian County took 64 shots to only 44 for the Chargers but both teams had 18 baskets.
Bullitt East won the game at the free throw line, converting 21 of 27 chances while the Colonels were nine of 13.
“The main thing was that we rebounded the ball,” Barr pointed out.
The Chargers had a 40-33 edge on the glass. Besides the 13 rebounds from Washburn, the red and gold got 10 rebounds from sophomore Derek Willis and eight from Rusty Troutman.
Washburn had the 22 points while Hayden Sweat finished with 14 points. Both Troutman and Willis had eight points.
“We had them down double figures and then they got it down to four,” Barr said. “We were in the bonus early and our kids did a wonderful job of knocking down the free throws.”
Against Warren Central just 16 hours later, Bullitt East just could not get started. The Dragons raced out to a 14-0 advantage and the Chargers were facing an uphill battle from that point.
Bullitt East fought back to within 24-18 midway through the second quarter, but Willis picked up his second and third fouls (for a charge and then a technical) with 3:18 remaining in the half and Washington went to the bench with three fouls at the 2:51 mark. Warren Central then pushed the lead back to 42-28 at halftime.
Willis hit the first basket of the second half, but then had his fourth foul seconds later. Washburn’s fourth foul came at the 4:55 mark and Rusty Troutman had foul fouls with 3:27 remaining in the third quarter.
When Troutman picked up his fourth foul the Chargers were within six points and after Sweat hit two free throws, the Charger had the lead down to four points. That was the high water mark for the red and gold as Warren Central ripped off 12 straight points in just 90 seconds to put the game on ice.
Bullitt East could get no closer than nine points in the final frame.
“We just had three of our better players on the bench with four fouls and that’s still in the third quarter,” Barr lamented.
“I’m proud of our kids,” the coach added. “I’m not proud of being down 14-0, but I was of everything after that. The first three minutes were as bad as it could get. After that we outscored them by four points.
“That’s a bad start and that’s on me,” Barr noted. “I didn’t have them prepared.”
Fant had the 34 points as he knocked down 11 of 12 free throws and he also had a three-pointer. Jordan Shanklin finished with 14 points for the Dragons.
Bullitt East had only three three-pointers in the contest but did make 14 of 16 free throws.
Trey Rakes paced Bullitt East with 18 points while Sweat collected 15 points and Troutman ten points.
Bullitt East was headed to the Ashland Invitational Tournament this week where they were to play three games.
King of the Bluegrass
At Fairdale H.S.
BULLITT EAST 62 (15-20-10-17) Derek Willis 8, Hayden Sweat 14, Corey Washburn 22, Rusty Troutman 8, Trey Rakes 6, Cody Mattingly 4.
CHRISTIAN COUNTY 52 (13-10-16-13) Tandy 6, Kales 18, Lewis 6, Hickey 15, Riley 3, Hughes 2, White 2.
Consolation Bracket Final
BULLITT EAST 61 (11-17-16-17) Trey Rakes 18, Cody Mattingly 2, Rusty Troutman 10, Hayden Sweat 15, Derek Willis 8, Reece Hardin 2, Corey Washburn 6.
WARREN CENTRAL 71 (22-20-18-11) Shanklin 14, Smith 6, Bender 5, Fant 34, Riley 1, Johnson 8, Helsel 3.