Thomas' three is key for Butler in win over Hutch

Charles Chaney
Butler County Times Gazette
The Butler Grizzlies celebrate after Butler knocked off Hutchinson in a last second shot on Tuesday night at the Power Plant. Butler scored the game's last 11 points to steal the win.

Don’t tell Butler’s men’s basketball team to count their chickens because they will not. 

They didn’t on Wednesday night as they hosted rival Hutchinson. 

Butler outscored Hutch 11-0 over the game’s final 3:06 to stun the Blue Dragons 66-65 after trailing for what felt like the entire game.

Emporia State transfer Keyon Thomas nailed a corner three from the right side to give the Grizzlies the lead with 11.5 seconds remaining.

“We’re taught in basketball, it’s a game of runs,” Thomas said. “We knew we had a run of our own in us.”

They did. They had a few of them in the second half and would need every single one after falling behind by 18 in the first half. 

“Coach told us to cut it to 10 and then go from there,” sophomore Shawn Hopkins said. “We never felt like we were out of it.”

It looked like they were as Hutch build a 36-18 lead while the Grizzlies struggle to find water in a boat from the middle of the ocean. They missed 12 consecutive shots and went 2 of 20 over the span of six minutes and 23 seconds. 

“We struggled to score because we didn’t move the ball,” Butler Head Coach Kyle Fisher said. “When we moved the ball, we were able to score and that’s what helped us win tonight.”

A DeeJuan Pruitt dunk with 9:03 remaining in the first half pulled Butler within four. That’s when the lid closed for the Grizzlies. 

It wouldn’t be until Shawn Hopkins scored on a layup with under three to go did the lid come off and the game open up for Butler. They would outscore Hutchinson 7-4 the rest of the way and set the tone for the second half.

“We were never out of it,” Fisher said. “Not in our huddle at least.”

Butler (3-1) chipped away from the 41-27 Hutch halftime lead almost immediately. Within 70 seconds, they had it down to 10 and RJ McCarthy nailed a three pulling Butler within nine with 14:24 remaining. 

Isaiah Williams drained a three with 5:03 remaining, pulling Butler within four at 59-55. Both teams had been going back-and-forth as the lead hovered around 6-7 points for a majority of the second half, then Williams brought it within a 2-posession game.

Hutch (2-2) responded with six quick points, capitalized by a put back dunk by Majok Kauth with 3:06 remaining.

Hopkins responded with a three and it gave Butler life. 

“We trust in this team,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been in a lot of these games and knew how to keep our head level.”

Butler’s defense clamped down, forcing Hutch to go 0 of 6 for the final three minutes of the game, including forcing two turnovers.

Shae Mitchell drained a three from the top of the key, pulling Butler within 65-63 with 1:20 remaining. 

After a three offensive rebound possession, the Grizzlies forced a turnover, setting up the game winner from there. 

Noah Thomasson found Thomas in the corner, who was open, and the rest is history.

“We know what he’s capable of,” Hopkins said. “We’ve seen him hit those shots so we trusted him to make that.”

Thomas, who had struggled in the loss to Dodge City, had been 0 of 4 before that shot. Coach Fisher drew up a play for Thomas. 

“The misses he had were good looks,” Fisher said. “I looked at him and said go ahead and give me one. He did.”

"I always have confidence in myself," Thomas said. "My teammates and coaches trusted me to hit that shot."

Thomas finished with 11 points, with nine of them coming in the second half. 

Butler defended the final 11 seconds with aggressiveness they earned through the discipline in the second half. They had only committed five fouls going into the final possession. They held Hutchinson with only one shot attempt and deflected multiple attempts at the rim. 

“I told them we just need to deflect one ball and we win,” Fisher said. 

Hopkins led Butler with 16 points on 5 of 13 shooting, including four rebounds. Thomasson had 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

Butler held Hutchinson to 12 of 32 from the floor (37.5%) in the second half and 0 of 9 from deep. They did not give up a single free throw in the second half, while forcing 12 turnovers.

“We don’t win that game without our defense,” Fisher said. “We have to use our defense to get us into offense.”

Fisher is now 2-0 against Steve Eck and Hutchinson, a feat not many coaches can put into their cap. However, Fisher ignores a lot of that and is focused on the larger picture.

“It’s just another game,” Fisher said. “It’s a great win but at the end of the day we still have 17-18 games left to play.”

One of those games will be at Pratt on Saturday as the Grizzlies will play the Beavers in a 7:30 p.m. tip-off. It’ll be the first of three games in five days for Butler. 

“This league is tough,” Hopkins said. “We have to continue to grind out these wins.”

Charles Chaney has been the Sports Editor for the Butler County Times-Gazette since Aug. 2019. You can reach him at cchaney@butlercountytimesgazette.com or on Twitter at @ChuckChaneyBCTG.