That mid-conference grind. The time of the schedule where the early conference pep is gone and the closing excitement is still a few games away. It is the time of the year teams have to dig down and just grind.
Unfortunately for the Barton Community College men’s basketball team the heart of that grind including a pair of long road trips which didn’t go well.
Fresh off its first Top 25 ranking of the season, the Cougars suffered back-to-back losses for the first time this season with its setback to Seward County, 89-76, Saturday at the Green House in Liberal. That came on the heels of a last-second loss at Cloud County Wednesday.
“We knew going into the week it would be a tough stretch,” Coach Craig Fletchall said. “We didn’t respond the way I had hoped. We actually played pretty well at Cloud but not so much at Seward.”
The losses dropped Barton to 6-3 in the West and put a big damper on hopes of a Jayhawk West title. Barton is 18-5 overall. Seward improved to 4-5 in the West and 11-11 overall.
The Cougars are now tied for second with Hutchinson – two full games behind Butler Community College. Butler kept the schools in the West race with its first loss of the season Saturday, dropping an 83-72 decision at Garden City.
Barton struggled shooting the ball – shooting less than 50 percent for just the second time in six games. Barton really struggled from behind the 3-point line, hitting 7-of-29.
“We fell in love with three early in game again,” Coach Fletchall said. “We shot a lot of threes in the first half which is a sign we are not being aggressive. We shoot the three pretty good and it is a big part of our game but we can’t be complacent with shooting jump shots. We have to stay aggressive and get to the basket as well.”
Barton trailed by eight at half. The game started to get out of hand early in the second half. Seward went on a 13-6 run to take a 56-41 lead with 13 minutes to play and kept going. It reach 69-45 at the midway point.
The Cougars made a run at the Saints but never really challenged them. Barton cut the lead to 14 with still more than five minutes left but Seward pushed it back to 79-58 with 4:42 to play ending the threat. Barton would get it down to 10 with two minutes left but no closer.
Ahmad Walker scored 24 for Barton – all in the second half. He was joined in double figures by Jalin Barnes with 17 and Kenny Enoch with 16. The .403 shooting from the field was the lowest of the season for Cougars. The previous low was a .411 in another loss at Butler.
Seward received a career-high 26 from reserve guard Kevin Sims led by a 13-of-17 effort at the free throw line. The Saints shot 52 percent from the floor – the second straight time Barton has allowed its opponent to shoot 50 percent or better. Barton had allowed just one previous opponent to do that.
Barton must grind its way through two more games this week. The Cougars will host Dodge City Wednesday before traveling to Garden City Saturday. Barton needs wins in both of those games if they want the full excitement of that stretch run. Following the two games this week, Barton will take on Butler and Hutch.
“We need to right the ship,” Coach Fletchall said. “We need to dig down and fight through this week. It won’t be easy, though. Dodge almost beat Butler last week and Garden did. That tells you those two teams are playing well.”