Butler men overcome 17-point deficit against Cloud, win in OT

Lionel Tipton
Butler's Donyae MacCaskill (15) goes by Cloud County's Travis Beetch (15) in the first half of Monday night's comeback overtime win.

EL DORADO, Kansas — Steady nerves and fierce determination were enough to pull the Butler men out of a 17-point hole and forced overtime Monday night.

Once the Grizzlies (12-4, 10-4) reached the extra period, they got contributions from five different players and outscored the Thunderbirds 14-9 for an 81-76 victory at the Power Plant.

“We know that in this league anybody’s capable of beating you when you don’t play the right way, and for about 30 minutes (Monday night), we didn’t look like ourselves at all,” Butler coach Kyle Fisher said afterward. “They looked like the team that had more energy, more desire. They were having more fun than we were having.

“But then, the last 10 minutes we really settled in on the defensive end and started getting some stops, which led to some easy baskets in transition. But for 30 minutes, we were flat.”

Fisher said clamping on a press was a key to the comeback.

“That kind of jump-started our defense where we started flying around and even guarding better in the half-court with more intensity and showing more toughness and character down the stretch,” he said.

After the 76-66 loss to No. 2 Coffeyville on Saturday night, Fisher said he feared a letdown against Cloud (4-12, 2-12).

“I knew this would be a tough game mentally for us to get excited about playing,” Fisher said. “You play two top-25 teams in a row, we were ranked in the country, big-time junior-college games where a lot of eyes were on us. Then, all of a sudden, you come and you play a team that’s in last place. 

“I don’t care who you are; it’s just like the NCAA Tournament when a 14 seed loses to a 3 seed, you overlook teams, and you don’t respect teams the way you should. In league play, if you overlook somebody and play your best, you’re liable to get beat on any night. So, it was a ‘trap’ game in some regards that we were not excited to play as they were for the first 30 minutes.”

Fisher said he had some simple advice to rally his players.

“You’ve got to just keep trusting each other, keep believing, keep fighting,” he said. “It would have been really easy to go our separate ways and shut it down, down 17 late in the game, but these guys kept battling, kept trusting, kept flying around and making plays, and started finishing some shots around the basket that we were missing early in the game.”

Sophomore guard Noah Thomasson said Fisher said to remain calm.

“He told us just to keep our head, keep playing,” he said. “We had lost some really tough games the week before, so we really wanted to come out and get a ‘Dub’ (Monday night). We just kept fighting and playing hard.”

It’s a matter of sharpening their sights, Thomasson said.

“It’s just a matter of focusing, locking in,” he said. “I’m one of the leaders on this team, and sometimes I’ve just got to take over and play with my teammates and help them get wins.” 

Even when he gets down, Thomasson said, the team lifts his spirits.

“Sometimes, when I put my head down, my teammates have got my back,” he said. “They tell me, ‘Hey (No.) 21, keep playing, keep playing. We’re going to get this win.’ They did that (Monday night).”

Cloud, which led 34-27 at halftime, pushed its lead to 54-37 with 9:12 left in the game. Little by little, Butler chipped away and at the 7:24 mark, sophomore Keyon Thomas hit his second straight three-pointer within a span of 23 seconds, getting the deficit into single digits. A brief T-Birds flurry pushed the margin back to 12, but a short shot in the lane by Thomasson, Treylon Payne’s short jumper and Shawn Hopkins’ steal and lay-in fueled a 6-0 run that got Cloud’s lead below 10 points for good.

The Thunderbirds still clung to a 66-63 lead with less than a minute, but Cloud failed to get a shot off and turned the ball over with 35.6 seconds to play. A Thomasson lay-in cut it to 66-65, then Hopkins’ short jumper in the lane pushed the Grizzlies ahead, 67-66, with 6.5 seconds left.

A disputed foul call with 4.5 seconds left sent Cloud’s Zavien Smith to the line for two shots and a chance to go ahead. He made the first but missed the second. Butler rebounded, forcing the overtime.

In overtime, five different Grizzlies scored the 14 points. Thomasson hit a short bank shot to give Butler a 69-67 lead, and sophomore Karrington Davis hit a three-pointer from the right baseline – his only points of the night – for a 72-69 lead with 3:34 to play.

DeeJuan Pruitt, who hit three of four free throws in the extra period, hit both for a 77-74 lead with 58.1 seconds to play. A Cloud traveling call gave the Grizzlies the ball back, and Thomas hit two free throws for a 79-74 lead with 40.5 seconds left.

Hopkins then took the ball strong to the hoop and was fouled. He missed both free throws but sneaked in for the rebound of the second one and put it in for an 81-74 lead with 11 seconds left. A goaltending call at the other end closed the scoring.

Thomasson added 14 second-half and overtime points to his 10 in the first half for a game-high 24. Pruitt recorded a double-double of 16 points and 14 rebounds, Hopkins, held to just four points in the first half, finished with 19, and Thomas had 10.

Steady leadership from Hopkins and Thomasson played a role in the comeback, Fisher said. 

“First of all, they’re both really, really good kids,” he said. “So, when you’ve got high character and you’re in tough situations like that, you typically have the mindset that you can get through it and have faith and trust in them. They definitely play with poise and character and definitely sparked their comeback.” 

Hopkins’ lay-in off a rebound of his missed free throw was a good example, Fisher said.

“We started making the extra-effort plays that we hadn’t made for the first 35 minutes or so in the game,” he said. “They were first to all the loose balls; they were driving it with pace, and we weren’t really down in the stance guarding with any defensive intensity. But once we started pressing, that kind of jump-started us, and we started looking like ourselves.

“We definitely showed some character to fight back there.”

The third game of Butler’s four-game homestand will be Saturday against Independence, a team the Grizzlies beat, 79-74, on the road Feb. 27.

“We earned the right to have a four-game homestand (because) we’ve had eight road games, which is more than anybody in either division,” Fisher said. “We had three road games in a row and five out of six, so obviously that’s really hard to make it through that stretch. It takes a toll on you mentally and physically. We’ll enjoy the rest that we’ll get the next day, and hopefully we can settle in at home and get our energy and emotion back.

“Indy’s a really, really good team, a high-powered offensive team with a lot of quick athletes capable of shooting the ball. We’ll have to play our best to get a win.”