Eagles squander 25-point lead, rally to top Bruins
Visiting Eastern jumped out to a 25-point lead over Ballard in the boys 28th District title game Friday night, and then the Eagles did something even more impressive.
After squandering the lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Eagles put on a rally of their own over the final 2:58 to beat the Bruins 60-56. Eastern won the game at the foul line, going 8 of 10 in that span to claim its first district title since 2012.
Eastern (17-11), which lost to the Bruins by 17 at home just two weeks ago, came out blazing. The Eagles hit 4 of 6 3-pointers to take a 12-2 lead with 3:48 left in the period. The lead kept growing through the first half as the Eagles shot 55.6 percent (15 of 27). Javen Rushin scored 11 of his team-high 13 in the first half to help the Eagles claim a 41-18 halftime lead.
Rushin hit a runner in the opening seconds of the second half to make it a 25-point game, but then it was Ballard’s turn to dominate. After shooting just 37.5 percent and committing 10 turnovers in the first half, the Bruins, the No. 10 team in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, made 11 of 14 shots in the third quarter to cut the Eagles’ lead to just six by the end of the period.
As Ballard converted on its end, they completely shut down the Eagles on their end by using pressure defense to confront shooters and close lanes. The Eagles made just three baskets in the second half, none in the fourth quarter.
Ballard completed its comeback with 3:41 left in the game on a Jamil Wilson layup that made it 53-52, but it was short-lived. The Bruins (21-10) made just one basket down the stretch – a Brian Alvey 3-pointer with 38.1 seconds remaining that cut Eastern’s lead to 57-56. Ballard also squandered opportunities at the free-throw line, making 1 of 6 in the final period.
“I’m proud of the guys for coming back,” Ballard coach Chris Renner said. “But we never should have been in that position, and we still could have sealed it at the free-throw line.”
Chance Moore, who finished with 12 points, said his team has fought through a lot of adversity this season. Ten days after blowing a 20-point lead in a home loss to No. 8 Scott County, he and his teammates drew a line in the sand.
“We decided to come back as a unit and just fight through it,” said the junior guard, who scored seven of his points after halftime.
After Moore hit a free throw with 29.5 seconds remaining, Ballard had one last chance to either tie the game or take the lead, but the Bruins turned it over. Kobey Jones hit a pair from the line and the comeback from the comeback was complete.
Eastern coach David Henley said he was proud of his team for the heart they showed at the end, even if he wasn’t exactly sure what sparked the winning rally.
“They’re teenagers,” Henley said. “If you can figure them out, let me know.”
The loss means that Ballard, which won the Republic Bank Louisville Invitational Tournament last month, must play its first Seventh Region tournament game on the road. Renner said that might not be a bad thing for his team, which posted two home losses this season. The last time Ballard lost at home was in February 2011.
Wilson, a junior guard, finished with 17 points. Alvey, a senior, added 16.
Eastern (17-11) – Knight 4, Wyche 4, Robinson 3, Johnson 2, Moore 12, Jones 7, Williams 7, Rushin 13, Wright 8.
Ballard (21-10) – Douglas 2, Patterson 5, Alvey 16, Wilson 17, Ramsey 4, Tisby 2, Wimberly 8, Ford 2.
3-point goals – Wyche, Robinson, Jones, Rushin 3, Alvey 4.