Butler men hit free throws, secure 67-60 win over Garden City

Lionel Tipton

EL DORADO, Kansas — Coaches frequently stress the importance of hitting free throws, especially late in the game. 

Monday night provided a textbook example for the Butler men’s basketball team, which hit 15 of 20 in the second half to seal a 67-60 victory over a pesky Garden City team. 

Butler hit 10 of 12 in the final 2:36 to salt away the victory.  

However, this was anything but a breeze. 

After sophomore Shawn Hopkins’ 12 points had sparked Butler (14-4, 12-4) to a 23-16 halftime lead, the Broncbusters (8-8, 7-8) started to convert from the perimeter, and their 7-of-15 performance from deep allowed them to play the Grizzlies to a second-half standoff, 44-44. Garden had hit only 1 of 10 three-pointers in the opening half. 

Sophomore Shawn Hopkins (5) drives to the rim against Garden City's Riny Laul (21) in Monday's 69-60 Butler win at the Power Plant in El Dorado, Kansas. Hopkins had a game high 23 points in the win.

Hopkins and fellow sophomore Noah Thomasson, and freshman Treylon Payne hit four each in the Grizzlies’ 18-of-26 performance.  

“Free throws have been a big emphasis,” sophomore guard Keyon Thomas said. “We take about five minutes out of every practice to shoot free throws, and after practice we get about 50 free throws to practice as a team.”

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Hopkins (three) and Thomas (two) accounted for Butler’s only made three-pointers. 

“That’s the second game in a row where we haven’t been able to score that he really stepped up and made a couple big shots for us,” Butler coach Kyle Fisher said of Thomas. 

Payne’s free throws stand out even more because he hit all four of his tries yet missed all eight field-goal attempts, Fisher said. 

His team’s late flurry was critical in the victory, Fisher said. 

“We finally got a few consecutive baskets, which allowed us to stretch (the lead) to 10, and the way were guarding all night … I felt comfortable with where we were,” Fisher said. “This was a really gritty, grimy win. We were not ourselves offensively … and, in order to be able to win, when you can’t shoot, you’ve got to defend.” 

For proof of this, look no further than the Grizzlies’ first-half defensive performance, when they held Garden to just 5-of-31 shooting from the field (16.1 percent). Butler, on the other hand, hit just 9 of 28 field goals for 32.1 percent, which provided the seven-point halftime margin. 

That Garden City warmed up after halftime didn’t surprise Fisher, he said. 

“It’s usually a little easier to shoot when it’s late-game,” Fisher said. “When it’s desperation time, and you need a ‘three,’ usually you know you’re going to have to shoot it. And they started coming at us fast and getting some dribble penetration on us, which made us help, and they got some ‘rhythm shots.’ 

“We made a couple in the second half. We went 3-for-9 in the second half and did a good job of scoring around the rim. We got it to D.J. (DeeJuan Pruitt) and Shawn (Hopkins), and Donyae McCaskill really helped us score those tough twos we needed because the other shots weren’t falling. 

“We did enough. It didn’t feel like we were very good offensively, because we didn’t shoot it very well, and we’re leading the league in three-point percentage, at least we were.” 

Hitting more of those shots would have provided an easier margin, Fisher said.  

“We’re a good-shooting team, and we got good, open shots that just weren’t falling,” he said. “That’s one reason I’m really proud of our guys, because that can really be deflating. When you’re not shooting well, that can slow you down on the defensive end and make you feel sorry for yourself. 

“But there was no quit or feeling sorry for ourselves. Even though we weren’t shooting well, we kept guarding.” 

 After a road game at Neosho on Wednesday, the Grizzlies are back home Saturday for Allen County, and they have another quick turnaround next Monday when they face Cowley, ranked 18th nationally. 

“There’s nothing like this conference season in junior-college basketball,” Fisher said. “Typically, you play six or eight games first semester, then you have three weeks off, and then you come back and you play 12 or 14, so it’s not such a long grind.  

“There’s nothing like this in junior-college basketball – 20 straight games against some of the top teams in the country. It’s an unbelievable grind, mentally and physically, so it’s really important that we’ve got quality kids with character in this program that are hanging in there and are fighting through some injuries and some fatigue and who want to be playing our best ball late.”