It is still early in the grueling 26-game Jayhawk Conference race. But Saturday night in Arkansas City was going to give either Barton or host Cowley the out-right lead in that race.
Both teams came in 4-0 in the conference – the only unbeaten teams in Jayhawk play. When the final buzzer sounded at Scott Auditorium, Barton had an 86-79 win to stand alone in the unbeaten ranks in the Jayhawk.
“Road wins are tough in this league,” Coach Craig Fletchall said. “Cowley had a good team. It was a tough win for us.”
Barton is now 5-0 in the Jayhawk and 9-0 overall. Cowley falls to 4-1 in the conference, tied with Hutchinson and Coffeyville for second. The Tigers are 7-2 overall.
A pair of big second half runs proved to be the difference for Barton. The Cougars had a 12-0 run early and a 10-0 run late. That helped the Cougars rally from a halftime deficit for the win. It was the fourth time in five conference wins Barton trailed at half.
“We don’t lose our composure,” Coach Fletchall said. “Cowley hit eight 3-pointers, all off the bench, in the first half. We handled that better in the second half.”
Barton came out on fire to start the game. The Cougars bolted to a 7-0 lead following a deep 3-pointer by Sam Lorenzen less than two minutes into the contest.
After Kawanise ‘Squeaky’ Wilkins tipped in a Lorenzen miss, it was 9-0, forcing Cowley Coach Tommy DeSalme to call a tie out 2:40 into the game.
That seemed to calm the Tigers, who answered with the game’s next five points. The Tigers took their first lead at 15-14 on a 3-point play by Darnell Cowart with 11:27 left in the half.
A trio of 3-pointers gave Cowley its biggest lead of the game at 25-19 with 7:47 to play. Barton didn’t panic. Lorenzen knocked down back-to-back treys to tie it at 25-all with 5:58 to play.
A third straight trey by the Nebraska Kearney transfer gave the Cougars a 28-25 lead. Cowley closed out the half strong, taking a 40-34 lead to half.
Cowley quickly pushed the lead to nine early in the second half but Lorenzen stopped a 9-0 run over the two halves to make it 43-36.
That was the start of yet another big second half for the Cougars. Treys from Lorenzen and Noah Webster got things rolling. Back-to-back buckets by Wilkins pulled the Cougars within 50-49 with 15 minutes to play.
Lorenzen gave Barton the lead with two free throws, 51-50, with 14:40 left. The Cougars kept going with another Webster 3-pointer for a 54-50 lead and pushing Barton’s run to 12-0 with 14 minutes to play.
Cowley recaptured the lead at 60-56 in the back-and-forth affair. Cowley would play with the lead the next several minutes, reaching six at 72-66 with 5:45 to play.
Keshon Montague buried a big 3-pointer to cut that lead in half, 72-69, with 4:49 left and start another Cougar run. Lorenzen hit a trey the next trip down to tie it at 72-all. Barton’s run reached 8-0 on a Montague jumper in the lane for its first lead in six minutes, 74-72 with 3:45 left.
Wilkins extended the run to 10-0 with two free throws at the 2:55 mark and Barton had a 4-point lead. Cowley stopped the run with two free throws. McGee would bring Cowley with a single point at 78-77 with 1:26 to play on a 3-pointer.
Cannon would answer with a 12-footer on the right baseline to make it 80-77 with 53 seconds to play. That jumper would prove big as Cowley failed to score its next trip down, forcing the Tigers to foul.
Barton made 6-of-6 free throws the final 26 seconds to secure the win.
Lorenzen led Barton with a career-high 25 points thanks to a 7-of-12 effort on 3-pointers. Wilkins added 16, Cannon 16 and Montague 10.
The Cougars be back at home Wednesday when Allen County comes to the Barton Gym. The Red Devils are 1-4 in the Jayhawk and 3-6 overall but are coming off a 102-95 overtime win over Butler. Tip is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.