Tyler Sharpe struggled early, but the Bullitt East star never let that get to him.
After missing six of his first seven shots, the senior guard came up big when it counted most for the Chargers, who rallied to knock off visiting Fern Creek 72-66 Thursday night in a battle of Top 10 teams in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings.
Sharpe scored 11 points in a 13-2 run over the final 3:42 of the game, finishing with 20 points after missing six of his seven shots in the first half.
GALLERY | Bullitt East-Fern Creek boys basketball
“It was good to battle,” Sharpe said. “We’re a senior-laden team. It was good to show that we’re experienced and we didn’t back down.”
Sharpe’s three-pointer started the game-changing rally, and he followed that with two free throws to tie the game with 2:32 left. Brandon Klefot’s two free throws gave No. 6 Bullitt East (12-2) the lead with 2:04 remaining, and after Ahmad Price missed a game-tying attempt for No. 10 Fern Creek, Sharpe responded with a three-point play off a runner that made it 69-64 with 1:09 to go.
“Big time players make big time plays in big time games,” Bullitt East coach Bob Blackburn said of Sharpe, who came into the game averaging 22.2 points per game.
That didn’t seem likely in the first three quarters, as Sharpe would see most of his drives and outside shots fall off the rim.
While Sharpe struggled early, Jared Farris, the team’s 6-8 senior center, kept the Chargers in the game as he made his first seven shots. He scored 15 of his 22 points in the second quarter, helping the Chargers take 39-38 halftime lead over the Tigers (9-5). But Farris knew his teammate would turn it around.
“He’s always clutch down the stretch,” said Farris. “You can rely on him. He’s always big.”
Da’Quan Jones scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Tigers, who outrebounded their hosts 32-19, but after Jones’ layup with 4:01 to go, the only other shot Fern Creek would make down the stretch would come off a 15-footer by Anthony Wales, who finished with 18 points, with 41 seconds to go.
The Tigers would struggle down the stretch as they could not find an answer to the Chargers’ 1-3-1 zone, but Fern Creek coach James Schooler hopes his team – which has just two seniors compared to the Chargers’ seven – can use this as a growing experience.
“It’s all part of the process,” Schooler said. “You learn from it, and you just realize it’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.”
It’s very likely Bullitt East and Fern Creek will meet again this season. A rematch between the 24th District rivals could take place as soon as next week in the Louisville Invitational Tournament, but they will be hard pressed to duplicate the performance from Thursday night.
The game featured 21 lead changes and eight ties, and the only time either team held a lead larger than five points came when Sharpe hit a free throw with :10.7 remaining to finish the scoring.
“I guess we’ll see each other again in about 45, 50 days,” said Blackburn, referring to the district finals.
Fern Creek (9-5) – Stanton 4, Wales 18, Price 6, Jones 19, Hawkins 4, Washington 15.
Bullitt East (12-2) – Sharpe 20, Rakes 6, Osborne 2, Polson 4, Klefot 9, Wilson 9, Farris 22.
3-point goals – Wales 4, Washington 3, Sharpe 2, Klefot, Wilson 3.