Having watched his team miss its first eight tries from 3-point range, Bullitt East High School boys’ basketball coach Bob Blackburn had faith that junior guard Tyler Sharpe finally would find his range from behind the arc.
“He told me he would, and I never doubt my players,” Blackburn said with a smile. “If you don’t believe in yourself, why would I believe in you? He believed in himself, and our kids believe in each other.”
Sharpe made good on his promise, hitting a trio of big 3-pointers in the second half and scoring a game-high 16 points to lead the Chargers past host Fern Creek 61-59 on Tuesday in a battle of 24th District rivals.
Sharpe leads Bullitt East in scoring and 3-pointers this season but struggled to get good looks early against Fern Creek’s quick guards.
“They were all over me the whole game, so when I finally got a chance I knew I had to take advantage of it because I wasn’t getting many looks,” he said. “It was nice to get a couple of looks because those guys were playing great defense.”
Bullitt East improved to 9-4 overall and 1-0 in district play. Junior Jared Farris added 13 points for the Chargers.
Fern Creek (9-6, 0-1) had four players score in double figures, led by senior center Desi Agonva (13 points). The Tigers also got solid nights from their three freshman guards: Anthony Wales (12 points), Ahmad Price (12 points) and Trey Hill (11 points).
But the Tigers couldn’t overcome their struggles at the free-throw line. Shooting 55.7 percent from the line this season, Fern Creek was 15 of 27 (55.6 percent) on Tuesday, including 1 of 5 in the fourth quarter.
“It’s just another facet that a young team has to learn,” Fern Creek coach James Schooler said.
The Tigers trailed 13-4 early, rallied within 31-29 at halftime and took their first lead, 35-33, on Agonva’s layup with 5:21 left in the third quarter.
Fern Creek led 45-42 entering the fourth quarter before Sharpe’s second 3-pointer tied it at 45 with 7:13 left. His last 3 gave the Chargers a 50-47 lead.
“I feel like the guys did a great job containing him for three quarters,” Schooler said. “Sharpe is a warrior. I love coaching against him because we’re both competitors.”
Agonva’s basket tied it at 52 with 3:45 left, but Tyler Bacon’s free throw gave the Chargers the lead for good, 53-52, with 3:02 left.
Tony Washington’s 3-pointer pulled Fern Creek within 60-59 with 6.8 seconds left, and Bailey Rakes hit 1 of 2 free throws with 5.5 seconds remaining for a 61-59 lead. Washington had a chance for a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it hit off the back of the rim.
The Chargers shot 44.4 percent (24 of 54), including 3 of 12 from 3-point range.
“We’re not a bad basketball team, and when we shoot the ball we’re a very, very good basketball team,” Blackburn said. “We still haven’t put four quarters together, but we will.”
For Fern Creek, it was another close loss. Of the Tigers’ six defeats, five have been by eight points or fewer.
“There’s a difference between winning and games and closing games out every single night,” Schooler said. “Our guys know how to win, but we have to learn how to close games out against proud programs like that.”
Bullitt East (9-4) – Bacon 9, Farris 13, Klefot 9, Rakes 5, Sharpe 16, Zurschmeide 3, Osborne 6.
Fern Creek (9-6) – Cook 2, Wales 12, Price 12, Hill 11, Jones 2, Washington 5, Agonva 13, Hawkins 2.
3-point goals – Sharpe 3; Hill, Washington.