Butler Falls to Top Seed Barton in Region VI Semifinals

Butler Falls to Top Seed Barton in Region VI Semifinals

HUTCHINSON Kan. – The No. 24 Butler Grizzlies gave No. 1 Barton all they could handle on Friday afternoon at the Hutchinson Sports Arena, but the Cougars escaped victorious, 79-76.

The fourth seeded Grizzlies (23-9, 17-7) saw their time at the region tournament and likely their season come to a close, with an at-large bid to the NJCAA Tournament unlikely.

Butler outshot and outrebounded the No. 1 seed and No. 1 ranked Cougars (31-1, 23-1), winners of 22 straight whose only loss of the season came in November.

The disparity at the free throw line was large as Barton shot 37 free throws (21-37) to Butler's 13 attempts (7-13).

The Grizzlies came into the game with Jamichael Stillwell and Christian Richardson returning from suspension and looked like a team that had all 12 student-athletes healthy for the first time in a while, playing an inspired first half.

Butler took an 8-6 lead at the 15:50 mark of the first half as Kaleb Washington knocked down a jump shot and did not trail again until the 15:59 mark of the second half when Barton took a 47-45 lead with Lajae Jones putting in a layup. The Grizzlies shot 51.5% from the field in the first half, holding the Cougars to 37.5% shooting. Stillwell totaled 16 points and six rebounds in the first half alone while Richardson and Washington each had 10 points.

A 10-point advantage was the Grizzlies largest of the game at the 9:25 mark of the first half as Jaquez Thornton's layup gave Butler a 29-19 lead. Butler went to halftime leading 41-36 as Barton cut into the Grizzly lead with two buckets in the final 45 seconds.

The second half saw Barton force 12 Grizzly turnovers as they outscored the Grizzlies 43-35 over the final 20 minutes. Barton shot 23 second half free throws to Butler's four.

From the 18:00 mark of the second half to the 13:46 mark there were five lead changes. Jason 'Deuce' Drake scored eight points in that stretch including knocking down back-to-back triples to help Butler keep the Cougars at bay for the time being. Butler built a seven-point lead, 63-56, with 8:19 to play after Amare Haynie drilled two threes on consecutive possessions, followed by Richardson making a layup off a Haynie dime.

Barton's Jones then scored 10 consecutive points of his own for an individual 10-0 run that saw the Cougars go ahead 66-63. They never trailed again. Jones finished with a game-high 23 points and game-high 10 rebounds.

Butler's Stillwell fouled out with 5:52 left in the game. He finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.

The Cougars took their largest lead of the game at the 3:30 mark when a Myles Thompson jumper made it 72-65. Thompson finished with 17 points on 8-14 shooting.

Butler responded with five unanswered points on another Drake three and Richardson knocking down two free throws, making it a 72-20 Barton lead with 2:27 to play.

Jaquez Thornton hit a shot clock beating three at the 1:05 mark to make it a one-point Barton advantage at 76-75. Butler forced a Barton miss on the next possession, hauling in the rebound. Thornton then turned the ball over out of a timeout with 16 seconds remaining and Barton hit three free throws down the stretch to close the game out.

Drake had a look at a deep three with 0.8 seconds on the clock to tie the game, but it hit off the back iron.

Richardson led Butler with 18 points, also pulling down five rebounds. Drake had 12 points, six rebounds and five assists while Washington finished with 12 but only scored two second half points. Haynie had nine off the bench, shooting 3-4 from deep. Charles McClennahan Jr. scored just two points but had seven rebounds. Barton's Mozae Downing-Rivers had 10 points, 10 assists and five steals.

Butler shot 49.2% to Barton's 41.9% and outrebounded the Cougars 42-35. The Grizzlies were 11-23 from three with Barton shooting 6-14. Butler had 19 turnovers to the Cougars seven.

The Grizzlies fall in the Region VI semifinals for just the second time in Kyle Fisher's five-year tenure, with two championship game appearances including a title a season ago, and a quarterfinal exit in 2020-21.