Five score in double figures as Butler Grizzlies men's basketball gets the best of Tabor College JV

Lionel Tipton
Butler men's basketball player, Shawn Warrior (5) slices through the Tabor JV defense on Monday, Nov. 1 in the season opener for the Grizzlies. Warrior scored four points in 10 minutes for Butler in their 127-52 win over Tabor.

EL DORADO – Frequently, early-season games – like those matching a four-year junior varsity against a two-year varsity – can turn out one-sided.

Monday night’s Butler season-opener against the Tabor JV was no different.

Sure, the Grizzlies scored the game’s first 20 points and cruised to an easy 127-52 rout of the Bluejays, which had no player taller than 6-foot-4. 

Still, the game was not without its noteworthy moments.

One of the more interesting matchups featured two freshmen from Class 2A Belle Plaine making their collegiate debuts – guards Eli Wiseman of Butler and Austin Hilton of Tabor.

A year ago, Hilton and Wiseman were teammates on the Dragons team that made it to the first round of sub-state play before falling to eventual 2A champion Hillsboro.

“It’s crazy, because we’ve played over 600 games together in our career, and we’ve played basically every second together, including basketball,” Wiseman said. “Both of our first college games are against each other, and it’s pretty unique.

“It was great. I love that guy, and it was fun playing against him.”

Of course, Wiseman’s Grizzlies had the advantage in firepower, but that was dwarfed by two old friends getting together on the basketball court.

“We both had pretty good high school careers, and we’re hoping to carry it on to college,” Wiseman said.

At one point late in the first half, Wiseman fouled Hilton, sending his former teammate to the free-throw line for two shots.

“It’s just really fun to play him in this game, and I got to guard him,” Wiseman said. “I know I fouled him, but it’s still awesome.”

For Hilton, it just didn’t feel right.

“It was really weird seeing him out there,” he said. “It was one of those things that we talked about before the game, where you’ve got to secretly cheer him on in your head, but on the court in the game, it’s your team versus his.”

And what was he thinking when Wiseman – giving up 6 inches in height – fouled him?

“I was about to beat him up,” Hilton joked. 

That a small school such as Belle Plaine could produce two players at a four-year college and a community college is quite noteworthy, both said.

“It’s pretty special to have two kids come out and especially play each other in their first game of college ball,” Hilton said. 

The mismatch of the teams went beyond Butler’s height advantage. The Grizzlies held Tabor to just 21.4-percent shooting from the field while hitting 57.6 percent of their shots. The Bluejays were 8 of 40 from three-point range, but Butler only hit 9 of 23.

The Grizzlies had five players in double figures, led by sophomores Keyon Thomas (19 points), R.J. McGarthy (17), Isaiah Williams (16) and Caleb Golden (14). Freshman post Isaac Ondekane, a newcomer from Sunrise Christian in Wichita, used his 6-8, 290-pound frame to score 10 points and grab five rebounds. Forward Marque English, who returned to Butler this year after spending last season at Northern Colorado, led the team with nine rebounds Monday night. He averaged 11 points and six rebounds in his freshman season.

Monday night’s game might have been a lopsided rout, but Grizzlies third-year coach Kyle Fisher said afterward that he hopes it will provide some momentum as Butler heads to Iowa this weekend to face Marshalltown on Friday and second-ranked tournament host Indian Hills on Saturday.

 “It was a good opening game (Monday night),” Fisher said. “It was good to see everyone out there in uniform and in a real-game situation. No matter who you play, a real game is very different from a scrimmage. 

“It was good to get the rust knocked off a little bit (and) get some game experience. I don’t know how well this prepared us for what we’re going to see this weekend, but now we know that it really starts to count.”

Don’t expect an easy victory in Iowa, Fisher said.

“Marshalltown is a big, physical team; they’ve got some talent,” he said. “Of course, Indian Hills is the No. 2 team in the nation in preseason polls, so that will be a real challenge for us and prepare us for (Jayhawk) conference play.”

Conference games begin Nov. 17 at Colby, and the Jayhawk Conference schedule will have a new look this season, Fisher said. 

“Not only do we play a lot of games, but there’s a lot of really good teams,” he said. “And the last couple of years, it’s been proven that some of the best teams in the country are in this league. That’s why we schedule a team like Indian Hills to go up on the road and play a top-five team, because we know there’s a number of teams in our conference who belong in the preseason polls and are worthy of being ranked. There’s a number of teams we’ll play that are really, really good.”

Fisher said he likes the idea of facing powerful teams out of the gate.

“We want to challenge ourselves and see where we’re at,” he said. “See if we get exposed, or see if we’re ready to go play in the Jayhawk.”

Essentially, the Jayhawk Conference schedule is set up in a round-robin fashion, where all teams play each other home and home. This step was taken when Allen County and Neosho County moved to Division II, Fisher said.

“They’re all conference games this year,” he said. “There is no East and West (division), because it’s a 13-team conference now. Everybody plays home and away, 24 games (total). Nobody else in the country has a conference schedule like the Jayhawk does.”

Reviewing Monday night’s game, Fisher said he found some positives despite the obvious mismatch.

“I like our balance,” he said. “I think we’ve got a number of guys that are capable of scoring and rebounding. There’s not any one guy that you key on. We can beat you in a number of different ways. I like our depth and our balance. When you talk about playing a 24-game conference schedule like we’re going to be playing, I think it’s really important that you have that depth, you have balance, you can play a lot of guys and expect them to play hard for short amounts of time.”

If he had one criticism, Fisher said it was rebounding.

“We gave up 13 offensive rebounds,” he said. “We did crush them on the boards, but 13 offensive rebounds is way too many, no matter who we’re playing.”

Even though the Grizzlies return just five players from last year’s squad, Fisher said that’s still more than he has returned previously.

“I’ve never had that (five returning),” he said. “In my first year here, everybody was new. Last year, we had one returner in Shawn Hopkins. So for us to have my staff intact from the year before and five guys back off the previous teams is a real luxury for me. They’ve done a great job helping the other guys come along and figure things out.”

Along with Butler’s new faces, the Grizzlies’ opponents will have new faces – some familiar – in new places. One that comes to mind instantly is former Cowley coach Tommy DeSalme taking over at Hutchinson for Steve Eck, who is now at Kapaun Mount Carmel High School in Wichita.

“I’m one of the few people who may miss Steve Eck,” Fisher said. “I was undefeated – 2-0 – against coach Eck. I’ll take that.

“There’s a lot of turnover in the league from new coaches and coaches moving to a different spot, but it’s the best conference in the country. You’ve still got to be prepared every night, or you’ll get beat.

“I think we’ve got a good team. We’ve got to guard the ball better, and we’ve got to rebound better. By the end of this thing, I’ think we’ve got a chance to be pretty good.”