Don’t look now but the Barton Community College men’s basketball team is back in the Jayhawk West race.
Back-to-back road losses two weeks ago seemed to have all but ended the Cougars pursuit for the West title. But since those losses Barton has righted the ship winning three straight and crawling to within one-half game of the lead.
The biggest of those wins came Monday night at the Barton Gym when the Cougars knocked off No. 6 and West leadingr Butler, 86-78. The win moved the Cougars to within one-half game of the conference lead - one full game back in the loss column.
Barton is 9-3 in the West and 21-5 overall while Butler drops to 9-2 and 23-3. Things won’t be easy for Barton in their pursuit of Butler as the Cougars travel to a team on their heels next. The Cougars will head to Hutchinson tonight to take on the No. 17 Blue Dragons, 7-4 and 20-5.
“Butler is still in the driver seat,” Barton coach Craig Fletchall said. “They are a physically and mentally tough team. They just grind it and grind it.
“We have five or six games left and we are still the one chasing. Obviously the win kept us in it but Butler controls things. If we lost to Butler the race was over.”
Monday it was the Cougars high-powered offense that got the better of the West’s best defensive team. The 86 points scored by Barton was the highest total allowed this season for the Grizzlies. Earlier this season when the best offense met the best defense it was the defense that won. Barton scored a season-low 71 points in the 73-71 loss in El Dorado a month ago.
The Cougars led this one nearly the entire way. Kenny Enoch buried a 3-pointer from the left corner just 15 seconds in on the way to a 5-0 lead in the opening minutes. Barton increased that lead to as high as 13 (24-11) midway through the half.
At that point the Cougars went cold. Barton missed five field, turned the ball over four times and miss a pair of free throws at Butler went on a 20-4 run over the next six minutes to take a 31-28 lead.
Barton didn’t trail for long and when Jalin Barnes hit a jumper and added the free throw following a Butler foul Barton took a 36-33 with 33 seconds to play – the lead it took to halftime. The Cougars would lead the rest of the way.
Enoch was a spark plug again to start the second half. The 6-0 sophomore from Indianapolis hit a pair of 3-pointers in the opening two minutes and the Cougars were on their way to a 50-point second half.
Barton started putting some separation between the two teams with about six minutes left in the game. The Cougars led just 66-61 when, once again, Enoch hit a 3-pointer at the 6:25 mark. That jump-started a 13-2 run that gave Barton a 79-63 lead with 4:26 to play.
Barton needed almost every point of that lead as Butler scored the game’s next 11 points to make it a 79-74 on pair of free throws with 1:16 to go. Butler, though, would get no closer than five points as Barton hit 7-of-8 free throws to close out the game.
Enoch finished with a career-high 28 points on 6-of-11 3-pointers. He was one of four Cougars to hit double figures. Ahmad Walker, the reigning back-to-back conference player of the week, added 17 points and nine assists.
Jalin Barnes scored 14 and Eddie Hunt 12. Barnes and Enoch led Barton with seven rebounds.
Barnes, Hunt, and Khalil Gracey all fouled out of the foul-plagued game. Barton was whistled for 30 fouls and Butler 31. The two teams combined to shoot 89 free throws. Butler hit 35-of-45 and Barton 31-of-44.
Barton was back over 50 percent shooting for the first time in four games hitting 53 percent. A big difference in the contest was behind the arc. Paced by Enoch the Cougars hit 7-of-18 treys while Butler hit just 1-of-21.
“The biggest difference in the game was their inability to shoot the three,” Coach Fletchall said. “Everything else is pretty even. We out-scored them by 18 points behind the 3-point line.”
Jacolby Harris led the four Grizzlies in double figures with 21 followed by Lamar Wofford with 15. Wofford had a double-double with a game-high 11 rebounds.
Now onto Hutchinson.
“We are playing really well,” Coach Fletchall said. “I think Hutch and Butler are playing better that everybody right now. But I know that we will be ready to play. This group will be ready for the challenge.”
The Cougars still need help to get at least of a share of the West title. If the Cougars are able to get by Hutch tonight – a large task to say the least – Barton will have only one road game left in its final three games. Butler only has a pair of road games left but do have a tough trip to Liberal to take on Seward County the next to last game of the season.