Last season’s meeting of the Bullitt East and Pleasure Ridge Park boys’ basketball teams was a thriller in the Sixth Region Tournament final, ending on a buzzer-beater by the Chargers.
In last night’s rematch — in the quarterfinals of the Canfield Development King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic — Bullitt East removed all drama well before the final horn. Elliott Young scored a career-high 25 points, and the Chargers handled the Panthers’ signature full-court pressure in a 74-54 victory.
“That’s what we planned on coming out to do,” said Derek Willis, who had 14 points and eight rebounds for the winners. “We knew we had to come out and punch them in the mouth and show other teams in the Sixth Region that we’re the No. 1 team in the region.”
Bullitt East (9-0), No. 2 in The Courier-Journal’s preseason poll of coaches, led by seven points at halftime but broke the game open by outscoring No. 6 PRP 23-12 in the third quarter.
It’s the Chargers’ third straight victory over the Panthers (7-2). The previous two had been in regional finals.
Point guard Trey Rakes, who hit the 30-footer to win last season’s matchup, had eight points, seven assists and no turnovers while navigating the Panthers’ press. Bullitt East had only 12 turnovers.
“That’s Trey Rakes,” Bullitt East coach Troy Barr said. “He’s a winner, and if you only have 12 turnovers against PRP, you’ve done something. I’m really proud of them.”
PRP got 15 points from Antonio McDaniels and nine points and eight rebounds from Taywan Taylor, but the Panthers shot only 31.7 percent, including 4 of 23 on 3-pointers.
Bullitt East made 51.9 percent of its shots.
“Tonight we just didn’t have the right ball movement that we wanted, and we couldn’t get the right shots,” Taylor said. “Our shots weren’t falling, and Bullitt East was hitting all their shots.”
Willis, who is 6 feet 9, and guards Hunter Noffsinger and Rusty Troutman also helped with ball-handling as the Chargers showcased the passing and teamwork that have led to their strong start.
“They’re a good team,” said PRP’s Robert Sawyer, who had six points and six rebounds. “They know how to pass the ball and look for each other. We’ve just got to look for each other more and become a team more.”
As for how the Chargers dealt with the press, Sawyer said, “They just went right through it.”
Young, who missed most of last season with a back injury, made 10 of 15 shots, including 2 of 3 threes. He scored multiple times on the back end of the press and off passes from Rakes and Willis.
“I was hot tonight, and I just knocked every shot I could,” he said. “… They gave me the ball, and I hit shots.”
Rakes said Young was hungry to contribute this season and is hitting his stride.
“We knew that PRP would key mostly on me, Rusty and Derek, but Elliott stepped up and played a great game,” Rakes said. “They weren’t keying on him, but they should have because he was playing really well. He carried us tonight.”
Bullitt East will face defending champion Christ Presbyterian of Nashville in tonight’s 9 o’clock semifinal. Christ Presbyterian, a defending Tennessee state champion, defeated reigning Kentucky champ Trinity 55-47 in an earlier quarterfinal.
“Trinity’s a fantastic team, and to beat them like that says a lot about (CPA’s) program,” Barr said. “We’ve got our hands full. We know it.”
PRP dropped to the consolation bracket for what should be an exciting, up-tempo game against Trinity at 4:30 p.m.