March 15th, 2012
Rocks Take Down Willis, Bullitt East 52-32
Trinity advances to Sweet 16 quarterfinal round
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Much has been made of Bullitt East High School's 6-foot-9 forward Derek Willis this season.
Ranked by most as the Class of 2013's top recruit in the state of Kentucky, Willis has been the most talked about high school basketball player in the state and made waves in late January when he held a press conference to announce his verbal committment to the University of Kentucky as a junior.
He had UK head coach John Calipari and University of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino in the same gym on the same night to watch him play during the regular season and was even trending nationally on Twitter on one occasion.
But on Wednesday night, in front of just over 15,000 fans, and playing on the Rupp Arena floor he may grace as a Wildcat in two years, Willis was shut down and had his season ended by a Trinity High School basketball team that is ready to make a statement of its own.
And despite scoring just six points in the first quarter and 16 total in the first half, the Shamrocks used a big second half and an even bigger performance from a pair of unsung Shamrock heroes to defeat Willis and 6th Region champion Bullitt East 52-32 in the first round of the PNC/KHSAA Boys' Sweet 16 in Lexington.
"It wasn't pretty at times tonight, but I am so proud of this team's effort. I never question it. I know they're going to play hard," said Trinity head coach Mike Szabo of his squad. "We it got it done with defense tonight. We didn't shoot the ball all that well, but our defense was very good. Bullitt East is a great team and they've had an excellent year, so I'm proud of our guys."
Trinity was 1-for-9 from behind the three point line during the first two quarters and saw four of its starting, primary scorers - Darryl Hicks, Charles Foster, Troy Saxton and James Quick - combine for just two points during the course of the game's first 16 minutes, but the Rocks still managed to find itself in a 16-16 tie with the Chargers by halftime.
Including Wednesday, Trinity has now been tied at halftime in all four of its Sweet 16 appearances in program history.
"At this point in the year you're very familiar with what the other team is trying to do offensively," said Szabo. "So it is a little harder to score at times I think."
It was the second half where the Shamrocks began living up to its billing and taking control of the game. Trinity 6-foot-5 senior forward and Mr. Basketball candidate Nathan Dieudonne, who scored half of his team's points in the first half, put together a personal 5-0 run that gave the Rocks a 22-19 lead with 4:38 to go in the third quarter.
His 3-pointer and driving lay-up forced a Bullitt East timeout and gave Trinity its first substantial lead of the contest.
"I knew we were going to come out and start getting points. I wasn't really worried about that," said Dieudonne. "I was just really focused on defense."
Dieudonne, along with a rotating cast of defenders, did work diligently to keep the aforementioned Willis off rhythm and off the offensive board, and it worked. Trinity kepty the Bullitt East big man off-balanced and forced him to primarily take fade away and fall away jumpers all game long.
"We wanted to make it very difficult for (Willis)," said Szabo. "We wanted to bang him around, we wanted to push him around, we wanted to get up into him. We wanted to make sure he didn't get any offensive rebounds. If he shoots it and misses it, he goes and gets it very quickly, so we wanted to try and limit that as well. I thought everybody that played (defense) on him did a super job."
Willis did collect 13 rebounds, but was held to just 8 points on 3-of-15 shooting. He also had eight turnovers.
"It was real physical," said Willis. "(Trinity's) Demarcus Page, I give props to him. He played a good game on me. And Craig (Owens) and (James) Quick. They did a good job."
Bullitt East did manage to tie the game at 22-22, but the Rocks would begin a game-clinching run toward the end of the third quarter that would put the game away. Known for a slew of lopsided runs and scoring explosions during the season, this particular run was not out of the ordinary.
What was a bit of a surprise, however, was the duo that acted as its catalyst: juniors Page and Miles Rice.
After Page scored four straight points to put Trinity ahead 26-22 just before the third quarter's media timeout, Rice proceeded to bury back-to-back 3-pointers that abruptly put the Shamrocks up 32-24 with 34 seconds to go in the third period. Trinity ended the third quarter with that same margin and on a crucial 10-2 spurt that stunned a backpedaling Bullitt East team.
"Team....team. Depth. We have guys who can come off the bench and get things done and they're ready to do that," said Szabo. "And it's just fun to have a group of guys like that. We had a couple kind of struggle tonight offensively - no big deal. Somebody else comes in for them and picks up the slack."
Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr said he did not expect Page and Rice to provide the offensive fireworks for Trinity, but that he was not surprised by it either.
"(Trinity's) got guys on their bench that start for most teams in the state of Kentucky," said Barr. "They're talented guys, guys that can score. You've got to pick your poison with them, and if one of those guys is on, or two of them or on like they were tonight, they can be really dangerous."
Rice, who finished with 11 points, collected just the second double-digit scoring effort of his career and went 3-for-4 from long range. He also had two assists and a rebound in 19 minutes of action.
"Our team was struggling from the field and (the ball) just felt good in my hands," said Rice. "So I just knocked it down."
Page finished with 4 points and 8 rebounds in 14 minutes, while also turning in a solid defensive effort on Willis.
Trinity would go on to outscore the Chargers 36-16 in the second half and ended up with a 20-point victory during the program's first trip back to the Sweet 16 since 2004. Shamrock senior Foster scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half. He also had 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.
Dieudonne scored a game-high 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting and pulled down 6 boards to go with 2 blocked shots.
"We wanted to utilize our depth to try and get the game up and down, so no question that we wanted to pick up the pace in the second half," said Szabo. "When we scored, we were able to get in position and get some turnovers."
"But to come out in the second half and play that well, I can't wait to play on Friday (in the quarterfinals)."
Bullitt East (27-5) was just 11-of-44 (25 percent) from the field during the game and was outrebounded by Trinity 37-26. Barr, who said Wednesday's Sweet 16 game was almost as physical as his team's 6th Region Championship bear fight against PRP, said his team struggled largely in part because it did not make good decisions on offense.
"(It was) a very physical basketball game. Trinity's a great team. They played extremely well, shot the ball well in the second half," said Barr. "We did not do a good job in the second half of getting the shots that we wanted. We started taking quick shots. Got drained a little bit mentally and I think took some shots that we didn't need which led to quick scores for them."
"Once they get you down six, eight points, they're hard to beat."
Bullitt East junior Rusty Troutman was the lone Charger to score in double digits. He led his team with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and made 2 of his 3 three-point attemps. He also swiped four steals in the losing effort.
The win was No. 15 in a row overall for Trinity, which is now 29-1 this season against in-state competition. The Rocks are playing in its second Sweet 16 ever and first since '04. That year, Trinity reached the state quarterfinals after defeating University Heights 75-57 in the opening round before suffering a three-overtime loss to then-defending state champion and eventual state runner-up Mason County.
Trinity is now 32-3 and continues to meet all challenges and expectations.
"For these guys to be preseason No. 1 and take everybody's best shot all year, it's a test of their character, toughness and pride," said Szabo.
The Shamrocks continue play in the 2012 PNC/KHSAA Sweet 16 on Friday against George Rogers Clark (31-5). The game is scheduled for 1:30pm at Rupp Arena and tickets are only available through www.ticketmaster.com and the Rupp Arena Box Office.
For continuing coverage of Trinity's run through the state tournament, visit LouisvilleCatholicSports.com or follow @LouCathSports on Twitter.