The Bullitt East boys’ basketball team bent, but didn’t break Tuesday night.
After having its 16-point lead against Seneca whittled to two with 2 minutes, 40 seconds to play in the first round of the Republic Bank Louisville Invitational Tournament, the Chargers scored six straight points to escape with a 60-54 win at Valley’s J.C. Cantrell Gymnasium.
“I’ve been with these guys a long time, it doesn’t surprise me when we get a lead and it doesn’t surprise me when we give up a lead,” Bullitt East coach Bob Blackburn said. “But we were aggressive (at the end).”
Junior forward Brandon Klefot scored 14 points – including a pair of key free throws with 44 seconds left – to pace five in double figures for the Chargers (11-4), who advance to play the winner between second-seeded Manual and Western at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals.
Early on it looked as if it might be a Bullitt East blowout. The Chargers jumped out to a 13-2 lead seemingly before Seneca could catch its collective breath.
The Redhawks rallied, though, trimming Bullitt East’s lead to four (23-19) at halftime. The Chargers used an 8-0 run early in the second half to take control. They extended their lead to 54-38 with 4:45 to play before Seneca surged again, led by its defense and junior guard James Dunlap. Dunlap tallied 10 points in a 14-0 run, that cut Bullitt East’s bulge to 54-52.
“They amped it up a little bit and we didn’t match their intensity,” Blackburn said. “Our kids might have relaxed a little bit, I might have relaxed a little bit, but we’re not good enough to relax.”
The Redhawks, however, missed two chances to tie the game, and one shot to take the lead, before Klefot knocked down his aforementioned foul shots. Moments later junior guard Tyler Sharpe scored off a steal to give Bullitt East some breathing room.
The Chargers shot 70 percent (14 for 20) in the second half as they overcame 13 turnovers in the final two periods.
“We needed it,” Blackburn said.
Six-foot-nine senior center Tyler Bacon added 13 points while junior Jared Farris tallied 12. Sharpe, who entered averaging a team-best 16.4 points per game, netted 11 points — all in the second half — while junior Bailey Rakes contributed 10.
Dunlap tallied a game-high 23 points while senior forward Chris Coffey added a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) for the Redhawks (7-8), who suited up only eight players due to illness and injury.
“We just ran out of gas,” Seneca coach Daniel Hawkins said.
Seneca (7-8) – Dunlap 23, Kostic 4, Boyd 4, Coffey 12, Smith 2, Britton 9.
Bullitt East (11-4) – Sharpe 11, Rakes 10 Klefot 14, Farris 12, Bacon 13.
3-point goals – Dunlap 3, Sharpe 3, Britton 1.