Winning at the Sports Arena was a task Craig Fletchall found very difficult for much of his career. Recently, however, it has become much easier for the Barton Community College men’s basketball coach.
The veteran coach got his first win over Hutchinson at the Sports Arena five years ago. Wednesday night Barton made it three times in five years. Barton jumped to an early led then held off the Blue Dragons for an 86-73 win. It was the fourth straight win for the Cougars.
“Winning here is not an easy thing to do,” Barton coach Craig Fletchall said. “I grew up here and have seen a lot of games in this building. Not too many teams leave here with a win. At one point I didn’t think I would ever leave here with a win.”
The win kept Barton one-half game out of the Jayhawk West lead but still a one game back in the loss column and not in control of its own destiny for the West title. Barton is 10-3 in the conference while Butler leads the way at 10-2. Hutch, ranked No. 21 in the latest NJCAA poll, fell to 7-5 and into fourth place. Pratt moved into third at 7-4 with its win at Garden City Wednesday.
The win gave the Cougars (22-5) a season sweep of the Blue Dragons (20-6) for the first time since the 2003 season. It was also the first time Barton has won back-to-back games at the Sports Arena since winning three straight from 99-01.
A Hutch free throw gave the Blue Dragons a 1-0 lead two minutes into the game. That would be the only time Hutch would lead. Eddie Hunt gave Barton a 2-1 lead less than one minute later and Barton was its way.
The Cougars had leads of 10-1, 21-4, and 30-10 as they gained control of the game from the opening tip.
But winning at Hutch is never easy and the nationally-ranked Blue Dragons were not going to go away quietly.
The Blue Dragons showed their first signs of life with an 8-0 run to end the first half and turn a 20-point deficit to just 36-24. Hutch whittled it to 42-31 less than two minutes into the second half. Barton answered with a 6-0 run.
Hutch went on an 11-0 run later the half to get within 54-47 with 11:09 to play. Barton got it back to double figures a couple minutes later when Kenny Enoch hit a 3-pointer to make it 61-49.
Hutch was down just four with six minutes to play before Tyrone Acuff scored and Khalil Gracey added a pair of free throws on the following possession to extend the lead back to eight, 67-59.
Hutch would get it to four one more time, 67-63 with 4:13 to play when Gracey hit possibly the biggest shot of the game, draining his third 3-pointer to silence the Blue Dragons again. Gracey got the game back to double figures just a minute later on his fourth and final trey for a 75-65 lead.
Hutch would get no closer than eight the rest of the way.
“I felt like we did a good job of handling their runs in the second half,” Coach Fletchall said. “They made a couple big runs and even got it down to four. Our guys were able to answer. The three Khalil hit was huge.”
Ahmad Walker topped the 20-point mark for the fifth straight game, leading the Cougars with 22. Gracey recaptured his deadly outside shooting, hitting 4-of-6 3-pointers on his way to 20. Enoch added 13 and Jalin Barnes 12.
Barton hit just less than 50 percent from the field but were on target from long distance and the free throw line. The Cougars were 25-of-29 charity tosses and 9-of-17 from 3-point land.
Bashier Ahmed hit seven 3’s for Hutch and led the Blue Dragons with 24 points. Austin Budke added 17 and Che Bob 15.
The Cougars will get to sit back and watch this weekend while the two teams around them do battle. Barton will get its bye Saturday while Butler travels to Pratt in the top West game of the day. The Cougars will be back at home Wednesday when Colby visits. Then it is off to Pratt the following Saturday.
“We are going to enjoy the week off,” Coach Fletchall said. “We have a three game stretch to end the regular season that is going to be big. Two of those are at home, where we have to protect our home floor. That starts the next game with Colby. That is where our focus is at right now.”