It was a Homecoming of sorts for the Barton Community College men’s basketball team – in Kalamazoo, Mich. that is.
The Cougars closed out their non-conference and 2014 portion of the scheduled over the weekend at the Kalamazoo Christmas Classic with a pair of wins. In the process four Michigan natives were able to play in the home state. This gave the Cougars a rather large contingent of fans despite being several hours from home.
Barton knocked off host Kalamazoo Valley Community College Friday night, 83-66, then returned to the floor Saturday afternoon for a 94-66 win over Kellogg Community College – another Michigan school.
The game allowed freshmen Khalil Gracey, Tyrone Acuff, Damarco White, and Tyron Hamby to play in front of family and friends then head home with them for the Christmas season. All four players are from the Detroit area, which is just more than two hours away.
“That is a big reason why we went there to play,” Coach Craig Fletchall said. “It gave those kids a chance to play in front of their family and friends. It was a good experience for them.
“I don’t like playing after finals week, the kids ready to go home. But this definitely grabbed their focus. They wanted to play well in front of home folks.”
In all six players had family make the trip as Kenny Enoch from Indianapolis had family make the drive as did Tevin Bailey who is from just the across the border in a suburb of Toronto.
In the win Friday over the host Kalamazoo Valley Barton won the battle of Cougars on the strength of sophomore guard Ahmad Walker. Walker continued his hot play with 19 points and 11 rebounds for his second double-double. The 6-4 guard also led Barton with six assists.
Barton got off to a sluggish start as the game remained close the entire first half. Barton was able to build 42-36 halftime lead. It wasn’t until the later stages of the second half that Barton finally pushed the margin to double figures to stay. Barton used a 15-7 run over a 4:30 stretch to take a 74-59 lead with 4:10 to play to secure the win.
Walker was joined in double figures by Enoch with 15, Jalin Barnes with 11 and Acuff with 11. Eddie Hunt added nine rebounds. Jacob Watts-Jenkins scored 12 to lead three Kalamazoo players in double figures.
Saturday was an easier path to victory for the Cougars. Barton got out of the gates with a 21-6 lead just more than five minutes into the game and were challenged only briefly. Kellogg trimmed the lead to seven at one point but by halftime Barton had built the lead to 53-35.
From there the Cougars cruised to the easy win over the Bruins to close out the non-conference slate with a 12-2 mark.
Walker had another big game with 19 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. It was the third double-double in four games for Walker. Enoch led Barton with 21 points on the strength of a 5-of-10 effort from behind the 3-point line. Gracey came off the bench to pour in 18 while Barnes and Acuff added 11 and 10.
Angus Bennett led four Kellogg players in double digits with 17. Kellogg fell to 1-8 with the loss.
Kalamazoo closed out with a win over Macomb (Mich) Community College to finish 1-1 in the Classic and improve to 4-8. Barton was the only team to go 2-0 during the event.
The Cougars will not be back on the floor until a Jan. 3 date with Seward County to open Jayhawk West play. That game will be at the Barton Gym in a 7:30 p.m. tip.
“It starts for real now,” Coach Fletchall said of the upcoming West opener. “To go 12-2 in the non-conference is good but the level of competition will get a lot better when we return from break. We are going to have to be ready for that. Once we get back, we will have about a week to prepare for Seward.
“It is cliché to say the league is tough. But right now there are three teams ranked in the Top 15.”
Currently Butler College is ranked No. 7, Hutchinson No. 13 and Cloud County No 14.