EL DORADO — It wasn’t pretty but it was a win, but the Butler Grizzlies used their defensive intensity to get a 81-60 win over Neosho County on Wednesday night inside the Power Plant.
The Grizzlies improve 16-6 on the season and have taken sole possession of first place in the East Division of the Jayhawk Conference with a 9-3 record. Only Hutch and Seward have better conference records.
The Grizzlies are coming off a stunning loss to Garden City on Saturday but in the overall of things, Butler had been risking an upset over the last few games. Trailing by double digits, including a 23-point comeback against Independence, the bottom finally fell out and Garden City took advantage.
However, on Wednesday night, it was a tale of two halves for Butler. Their defense struggled with defending the three as Neosho shot almost 50 percent in the first half from deep. In the second half, Butler put the clamps down. They held the Panthers to 33 percent in the second half.
As mentioned, Neosho always had the three-ball answer for any Grizzly question in the first half. Solid ball movement freed up shooters and the Panthers made Butler pay. Neosho was 5-of-7 from three in the first quarter alone. They were much more average in the second quarter.
Carissa Beck hit two three-pointers on back-to-back possessions, leveling the game at 32-all with 3:23 to go until halftime.
RaVon Nero hit a three with 58 seconds to go in the half to give Butler their 35-34 lead at the break.
Nero hit a three to start the third and it was really the tempo in which Butler would play in the second half. Their defense put a stranglehold on the game rest of the game. Butler turned mistakes by Neosho into points.
The Grizzlies went on an 11-0 run, capped by a stellar sequence of events by Nero. She clamped her defender, forcing a bad shot. Then, as the rebound rolled around, she split two defenders, getting the loose ball. She took it down, getting fouled and drew the foul and made the bucket.
It’s the game changing play Butler had been looking for.
As Neosho tried to get back in the game, they were their worst enemy. The Panthers shot 8-of-18 from the free throw line, just 44.4 percent. Butler's defense held Neosho to 0-of-10 from beyond the arc in the third.
Nero led Butler with 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting. She also had nine rebounds, three steals and three assists. After missing two games with a shoulder injury, Zayda Perez came in and performed well for the Grizzlies. She had nine points, four assists and four steals in the win over Neosho.
Nard finished with 16 points, four rebounds, one steal and one block in only 17 minutes due to foul trouble.
Jessica Jones led Neosho with 11 points, going 3-of-13 from three. Chrissy Brown had nine points and 10 rebounds as well.
Neosho drops to 1-10 in conference and 6-12 overall.
The Grizzlies are off on a rare Saturday and will travel to play Cowley on Wednesday. Butler is 8-6 against Cowley since the 2011-12 season. They are 3-3 at Cowley over that time span.