After a 2-3 start to the season that included close losses to Warren Central, Butler and Kentucky Country Day, first-year Bullitt East High School coach Jason Couch said he considered his team “fragile.”
“These guys were thinking, ‘Does this Couch guy really know what he’s doing? What’s going on here?’” Couch said.
But a Chargers team that had to replace all five starters from last season and adjust to a new coach is showing signs of coming together.
Connor Green scored 24 points and Luke Ezell added 23 points and six assists as Bullitt East shot a blistering 63.2 percent in a 68-48 rout of Pleasure Ridge Park on Tuesday in the second round of the Republic Bank Louisville Invitational Tournament at Valley.
No. 17 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, the Chargers (12-5) have won 10 of their past 12 games, a run that started with a tight 66-62 victory at PRP on Dec. 13.
“We got so much confidence when we beat them over at their place,” Couch said. “I know they had some guys back from injury tonight, but we’re a different team. We’re playing with so much more confidence.”
That showed especially in the first half, when the Chargers hit 15 of 19 shots (78.9 percent) on their way to a 44-22 lead at the break.
Ezell scored 17 points in the first half, hitting 3 of 4 3-point attempts.
“We moved the ball really well and just found the open guy,” Ezell said. “We found some lanes and drove them and got some good shots up.”
Couch said one key to Bullitt East’s improvement has been Ezell’s emergence as a scoring threat.
He’s such a great distributor and sees the floor so well, but he’s stepping up and looking for his shot more,” Couch said.
Bullitt East led by as many as 31 points, 58-27, in the third quarter before PRP made a brief run. B.J. Robinson paced the No. 19 Panthers (9-7) with 18 points, nine rebounds and three steals.
Waggener 63, Male 58: Sophomore Jaago Kalakon scored a career-high 29 points and senior JacQuess Hobbs added 15 points as the Wildcats (13-4) beat the Bulldogs (7-8) and ran their winning streak to seven.
Hobbs scored six straight Waggener points late in the fourth quarter, including a jumper that gave the Wildcats the lead for good, 52-51, with 3:50 remaining. Kalakon hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final 35.2 seconds and finished 13 of 16 from the charity stripe.
Waggener coach Bryan O’Neill said his team must be better defensively when it faces the Trinity-St. Xavier winner in Friday’s 7 p.m. quarterfinal.
“I felt like we didn’t do a good job of playing defensively until the last minute of the game,” O’Neill said.
Hogan Brownley led Male with 20 points and 13 rebounds. The Bulldogs committed 19 turnovers, leading to 17 Waggener points.
Eastern 53, Butler 47: Javen Rushin scored 17 points and the Eagles (10-6) shot 52.9 percent (18 of 34) in their victory over the Bears (11-6).
“The biggest problem we have is understanding what a good shot is because we have really good shooters,” said Eastern coach David Henley, noting his team hit 4 of 9 3-point shots. “We’ve had games where we’ve shot 28 to 30 3s, and (Butler) did a good job of taking that away.”
Sugar Ray Wyche had 12 points and three assists and Caleb Williams pitched in nine points, nine rebounds and four blocks as the Eagles advanced to face the Fern Creek-Fairdale winner in Friday’s 4 p.m. quarterfinal.
Butler put together a 12-2 run to open the fourth quarter, pulling within 42-41 on Maurice Tolley’s 3-pointer with 4:03 left. But a Williams jumper, a Wyche free throw and a Wyche layup gave Eastern a 47-42 lead with 1:35 left, and the Eagles hit 6 of 6 free throws in the final 47 seconds to seal it.
Marcus Montgomery scored 13 points to lead the Bears.
Valley 59, DeSales 45: The Vikings (11-3) missed their first 14 shots and trailed 5-2 after the first quarter but rallied behind Curt Lewis to beat the Colts (10-6).
“I’ve never seen a two-point quarter; that was a first,” Valley coach DeJuan Wheat said. “You have to give DeSales credit. It was a good test for us because they drop back in a zone and we had to run our zone offense. In the second quarter we executed and got good shots.”
Lewis had 19 points, 10 rebounds and four assists to lead Valley, which outscored cold-shooting DeSales 24-8 in the second quarter to take control. Xavier Johnson (12 points) and Raekwon Evans (11 points, six rebounds) also had big games as the Vikings advanced to face the Doss-Central winner in Friday’s 8:45 p.m. quarterfinal.
Jaxon Burgess had 16 points, 11 rebounds and three steals to lead DeSales, which shot just 26.9 percent (14 of 52) and committed 17 turnovers (10 by Burgess).
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
BULLITT EAST 68, PLEASURE RIDGE PARK 48
PRP (9-7) – Gerald Gray 8p; Trey Hill 8p; B.J. Robinson 18p, 9r, 3s; Logan Hudson 2p; Cashawn Beasley 6p; Tyler Anderson 6p.
BULLITT EAST (12-5) – Luke Ezell 23p, 6a; Thomas Wiseheart 2p; Connor Green 24p; Jared Osborne 2p; Konnor Polson 7p; Zak Perdew 2p; Grant Skaggs 3p; Derrick Donigan 5p.
WAGGENER 63, MALE 58
MALE (7-8) – Javon Davis 6p, 6a; Nathan Hobbs 12p; Jeremiah Goldwair 1p; Darian Clyburn 3p; Shane Doughty 4p; Hunter McCutcheon 10p; Hogan Brownley 20p, 13r; Armani Rowan 2p.
WAGGENER (13-4) – Ron Fell 3p; Trey Keaton 3p; Ethan Taylor 3p; Jaago Kalakon 29p, 5r, 3s, 2a; JacQuess Hobbs 15p, 4r, 3s, 2a; Ben Simic 2p; Jacobi Hendricks 3p; Keontrey Chappell 5p.
EASTERN 53, BUTLER 47
EASTERN (10-6) – Sugar Ray Wyche 12p, 3a; Jacob Robinson 9p; Isaiah Ross 2p; Braxton Johnson 2p; Kahlil Garmon 2p, 3s; Caleb Williams 9p, 9r, 4b; Javen Rushin 17p.
BUTLER (11-6) – Marcus Montgomery 13p; Austin Wise 5p, 4r; Ryan Luckett 6p; KelShawn Mozee 2p; Maurice Tolley 7p; Solomon Pennix 4p, 3b; Devin Pendergrass 3p; Frank Bentley 2p, 4r; Michael Burns 5p.
VALLEY 59, DESALES 45
DESALES (10-6) – Austin Black 8p; Dalton Kelly 2p; Jaxon Burgess 16p, 11r, 3s; Samuel Weining 10p; Jack Michels 3p; Luke Askin 2p; Travis Seibert 4p, 11r.
VALLEY (11-3) – Raekwon Evans 11p, 6r; B.J. Anderson 1p; Curt Lewis 19p, 10r, 4a; Xavier Johnson 12p; Dewann Billups 5p; Eric George 3p, 9r; Tre Anderson 8p.