11th-ranked Garden City pulls the upset over sixth-ranked Butler, 79-69

Lionel Tipton
Butler's Shawn Hopkins dribbles against Garden City

EL DORADO, Kansas—When Butler pulled out a 67-60 overtime victory in late March over Garden City, one person in street clothes on the Broncbusters’ watched very closely.

But in Monday’s Region VI first-round playoff game, 6-foot-4 freshman guard Denver Jones was healthy and no longer a spectator.

Jones made his presence felt throughout the game, scoring 24 points and helping Garden City end Butler’s season with a 79-69 victory at the Power Plant.

“Denver’s a great player at both ends of the floor,” Broncbusters first-year coach Cole Dewey said afterward. “We were on a six-game losing streak, and he had been hurt (for) those six games. Obviously, he creates a lot – not just himself for scoring, but he can penetrate into the lane and create for others as well. We’ve been missing that, and it was good to get him back.”

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In that regular-season matchup, the Broncbusters were also missing 6-10 forward Mohamed Diarra, who had 11 points and seven rebounds in Monday’s game.

“Those two guys (Jones and Diarra) make them better,” Butler coach Kyle Fisher said. “They’ve had a tough finish to the season, so obviously they were motivated to finish the season better than the regular season.

“We were kind of the opposite. We had a good regular season, but it didn’t look like we had any motivation to finish the season as good as we’ve played. 

“I thought they (Garden City) were the harder-playing team, and overall the better team (Monday night). We had a really good regular season, but this was a real disappointing finish.”

Fisher agreed that Jones made a significant difference.

“Denver Jones is a heck of a player; we really didn’t have much of an answer for him,” he said.

Driving the ball to the basket in the second half began to pay off for Butler, Fisher said, but then the Grizzlies started relying more on jump shots once they managed to take the lead.

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“Obviously, 5-for-23 from (three-point range) isn’t very good,” he said. “We should have stayed on the attack to the basket instead of settling for jump shots.”

At a point of the season where the next loss could end a season, past results really don’t matter as much, Fisher said.

“Every team, when you get to this point of the year, is good,” he said. “Every team’s regular season is out the window, and everybody gets a fresh start. So, when you’re on the road, your back’s against the wall and you’ve had a disappointing year, sometimes that helps you play well at the right time. We didn’t play our best game when it mattered the most.”

Included in Jones’ game-high point total was a perfect 13-for-13 night at the free-throw line.

“(In the first game) I was on the bench, cheering them on, coaching them on the bench,” Jones said. “Coming into this game, I knew I wanted to be aggressive. I knew I wanted to win this game, and I wasn’t ready to lose.”

Garden City likely took that overtime loss to heart, as the Broncbusters came out of the gate fired up, taking an early 13-2 lead.

Fittingly, Garden’s first points came on a Jones three-pointer just 16 seconds into the game, a hint of what was to come.

However, the Grizzlies (16-7, 14-7) did not lie down and went on a 17-4 run to take a 19-17 lead at the halfway point of the period. Sophomore guard Noah Thomasson, who led Butler with 18 points, scored six during the run.

But the Broncbusters came back, sparked by diminutive point guard Rodney “June” Lewis, who scored six of his 20 points in the final 8½ minutes of the period. Sophomore Karrington Davis’ three-pointer just before the halftime buzzer pulled the Grizzlies to within 32-29 at the break.

“We hit some shots early to build a little lead,” Dewey said. “And they came right back. We knew this was going to be a battle from start to finish. It was a real high-level game, and we were fortunate to come out with a win.”

Butler, which hit just 35 percent of its first-half shots, didn’t fare much better after halftime, converting just 11 of 29 attempts (38 percent). Meanwhile, Garden shot 43 percent in the first half and 59.1 in the second. For the game, the Broncbusters hit seven of 16 three-point attempts to Butler’s five of 23. The Grizzlies also took advantage of 26 fouls on Garden for a 36-29 advantage at the free-throw line.

Garden City advances to a second-round game Wednesday night at Barton County, an 89-80 winner Monday night over Cloud County.

“To be honest with you, we play better on the road this year,” Dewey said. “We’ll be ready for whoever it may be. We’ve got to keep working and preparing like we prepared for this game, and on to the next one.

“Jones creates a lot. It’s good to have him back.”