DODGE CITY, KANSAS A 14-4 run to end the first half and a feisty defense the Grizzlies have been trying to pride themselves on all season stepped up on Sunday.
Butler held Neosho to only 34 percent shooting in the second half, as Butler advances to their first Region VI semifinal since 2017 with the 82-65 win over the Panthers.
The Grizzlies did a number on Neosho’s Jae-Min yang in the second half. He had nearly half of the Panther’s scoring in the first half was held to only two points in the second half and the Grizzlies fouled him out less than 10 minutes into the second half.
"Our defensive effort is what won the game for us," Butler head coach Kyle Fisher said. "Our ability to go inside get open shots and drive it."
The Panthers and Yang made the Grizzlies earn it, as Yang scored the first eight points of the game for Neosho, putting the Grizzlies on their heels. Butler fought back, using their defensive stops by limiting the Panthers to one-shot possessions.
Despite being down 15-8 to start the game, Butler battled back to tie it at 23-all. Then, when Neosho took a 28-23 lead with 5:15 remaining in the first half, that’s when Butler made their move.
Javaunte Hawkins started the comeback, hitting a three to bring Butler within three. Then, Juwan White hit his second trey of the game to level it at 28-all with 2:36 remaining. Butler hit their free throws and Shawn Hopkins had an and-one play as Butler led by as many as seven during the run.
"Coach got us together and said we have to turn it up," White said.
During their run over the final 5:15 of the first half, Butler did not allow a bucket for four of the five minutes. They held the Panthers to 0-of-3 shooting and forced three turnovers.
It gave Butler a 37-32 lead into the break.
Shawn Hopkins continue his hot ways in the second half. He started 6-of-6 and found himself at the line more than he could remember. Butler had four players in double figures; they found themselves needing everyone.
Grehlon Easter, Butler’s leading scorer was unable to find the bottom of the nylon until late in the second half. His shots were good looks. As basketball does, they sometimes just rim out. Easter finished the game 1-of-14 on the night.
Hawkins finished with 20 points, with four made three-pointers for Butler.
Neosho was never closer than four in the second half. Butler’s ability to get to Butler shot more near 50 percent in the second half and found themselves at the free throw going, 23-of-28 for the game.
Butler never let Neosho make a push late in the game. When Ming fouled out, the offense for Neosho fell even more silent. Neosho mustered only
Ming led the Panthers in scoring with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting. He fouled out in 25 minutes. Daniel Titus had 33 points for Neosho.
"Held a team that hit 18 threes in their last game to only three this game," Fisher said.
The Grizzlies now have won four straight games over Neosho and all four have been by sizable margins; none closer than the 14-point win earlier this season.
No. 25 Butler improves to 24-7 on the season. It is the second most wins for a Butler men’s basketball team since 2002.
"It’s a big relief I would have never pictured going this far after playing with the team last year," White said.
The Grizzlies will take on the second seed, Colby (27-4) tomorrow afternoon at 5 p.m. with the right to the Region VI Championship Game on the line. The Grizzlies have not played in a Region VI title bout since the 2014-15 season.
Colby beat Butler 92-73 on Nov. 30 in Colby.
"It takes a lot of heck of a lot of toughness," Fisher said. "That’s what it takes to win a region tournament."