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After going toe-to-toe with the No. 2 team in the state, the Elizabethtown Panthers walked away dejected with the outcome, but they were encouraged by their progress.
The Panthers were coming off a disappointing 62-37 loss to No. 1 Louisville Trinity, but they had a much better showing against the second-ranked Bullitt East Chargers on Thursday night at Charlie Rawlings Memorial Gymnasium.
Elizabethtown had a chance to take a lead with less than 3 minutes left before the Chargers made 10 consecutive free throws in the final 2:29 to pull out a hard-fought 59-54 victory.
“We just know we can play with anybody and tonight we showed it,” said Elizabethtown junior guard Ryan Harris, who scored 13 points. “We put together one of our best games. We just had too many turnovers down the stretch.”
The Panthers (14-13) played without junior guard Ja’Von Cotton, who is still out with a concussion he sustained against Louisville Male on Feb. 5. Elizabethtown coach James Haire said he hopes Cotton can return for the postseason.
“That shows we can play with anybody when we do what we need to do and we did it without Ja’Von,” said Elizabethtown junior guard Nic McDonald, who scored a team-high 18 points. “It makes you wonder what we’d do with Ja’Von. It gives us the confidence we can play well in district and region (tournaments).”
Haire was proud of his team’s effort, but there were a couple of areas that hurt the Panthers. Bullitt East scored 18 points off 15 Panther turnovers and the Chargers held an 11-2 edge in second-chance points.
“They are a good basketball team with a lot of weapons,” Haire said. “I thought we played hard. I liked our effort. I thought we played that way at Louisville Trinity, but tonight the ball was going in the bucket. We’ve got to eliminate some of our turnovers. They’re big and athletic, but we still have to box them out.”
The Chargers (26-4) pulled out to a nine-point lead in the third quarter, but the Panthers trimmed it to 41-36 after a layup by McDonald and two free throws by sophomore Zach Patterson with 55.7 seconds left in the period.
After a 3-pointer by senior Trey Rakes with 36 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Harris drained back-to-back 3s to pull the Panthers within 44-42 with 6:29 left in the game.
“It felt good,” Harris said. “I was open and the shots went down. It seemed to get the crowd going. That was good.”
Bullitt East built the lead to five after a three-point play by senior Derek Willis, the University of Kentucky recruit who scored 16 and pulled down eight rebounds. The Panthers, though, closed the gap to 49-48 after two free throws each by Harris and junior forward Dominique Harding.
“We’ve talked about this before,” Haire said. “When things start going bad in practice or games, they seem to keep rolling. We haven’t been able to stop it and reverse it. We did that tonight. I’m not pleased with the loss, but they are growing up which I like. That’s a positive sign.”
The Chargers turned the ball over, giving Elizabethtown a chance to take the lead. A 3-pointer was off the mark and Bullitt East grabbed the rebound. Willis was fouled going up for a shot and made both free throws with 2:29 left. Elizabethtown turned the ball over and the Chargers held on hitting eight free throws in the final minute.
“We did some good things,” McDonald said. “We shot free throws well and we held a very good team to under 60 points. We executed our offense and got good shots at times. We did some things well, but we hurt ourselves with turnovers.”
Senior guard Rusty Troutman scored 19 of his game-high 21 points in the first half as the Chargers built a 34-28 lead.
BULLITT EAST 59, ELIZABETHTOWN 54
Bullitt East 15 19 10 15—59
Elizabethtown 9 19 8 18—54
Bullitt East (26-4)
Rusty Troutman 21, Derek Willis 16, Trey Rakes 11, Tyler Sharpe 6, Elliott Young 3, Rhett Troutman 2. FG: 17-43. FT: 18-22. 3-pointers: 7-19 (R. Troutman 3-8, Sharpe 2-4, Rakes 1-3, Willis 1-3, Young 0-1). Rebs: 24 (Willis 8). Assists: 7 (Rakes 5).
Nic McDonald 18, Ryan Harris 13, Dominique Harding 9, Zane Najdawi 5, Chas Jones 5, Zach Patterson 2, Tristan Johnson 2. FG: 13-30. FT: 22-24. 3-pointers: 6-11 (Harris 3-4, McDonald 2-3, Harding 1-1, Patterson 0-2, Najdawi 0-1). Rebs: 21 (Jones 6). Assists: 8 (Najdawi 4).
UP NEXT: Elizabethtown hosts Lexington Bryan Station at 7:30 tonight.
Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or email@example.com.