BY MIKE MARZOLF
Special to the Tribune
It’s been a trying preseason for the Barton men’s basketball team. So finally getting on the court and playing was a nice change of pace.
The Cougars let one game slip through their grasp then looked impressive the following night as they finished the Best Western/Pizza Hut Classic with a split of games.
The Cougars lost a big lead Friday night at the Barton Gym, losing to Otero (Colo.) Junior College then came back with a 65-49 drubbing of a very good Sunrise Prep Academy team out of Wichita.
“I really thought we played with effort for four halves this weekend,” Barton Coach Craig Fletchall said. “Guys like to play games and we finally got a chance to play. The loss the first night was tough. I was in shock most the next day, but the kids responded.
“This is a good team. I felt we had four good teams in this field and we call come out 1-1.”
Pratt lost to Sunrise Prep the first day then defeated Otero the second day.
In the win over Sunrise Prep, a prep squad that has produced several NCAA players over the past several years including Oklahoma standout Buddy Hield, Barton bolted to an early lead and never looked back.
Barton scored the first 14 points of the contest and led by double digits the rest of the way. Four different Cougars scored as Barton raced to the early lead.
“I really felt that was a defining moment in how we responded to the loss,” Coach Fletchall said. “This was a statement win for us to come out against a good club and get a win. Sunrise is a good team. They are 10 deep with division I talent and a DI coach.”
The start set the tone for the rest of the game as four different Barton players reached double figures in the win.
An impressive stat for the Cougars was just 10 turnovers. A couple days after dismissing its starting point guard – the second would-be starter to be dismissed during the preseason, the low turnover number was good to see.
In fact Barton had more steals than turnovers in the win.
Keith Mack, a freshman from Illinois, led Barton with 12 points. He was followed by Ezekiel Charles and Anthony Smith with 11 each. Charles and Smith are both freshman as well. Derek Dorn, a sophomore transfer, added 10 points.
Smith led Barton with 9 rebounds and Charles had four steals to with five rebounds.
Things weren’t as smooth in the opener. Barton led nearly the entire contest against Otero but couldn’t put the Rattlers away.
Barton led by as many as 15 points in the opening half and still led 42-35 at intermission. The Cougars pushed that lead to 17 early in the second half with a 56-39 advantage with 15 minutes to play in the game.
The lead grew to 21 points (64-43) before Barton went in a scoring drought. Barton scored just seven points the final 11:51 of the contest as Otero came back.
Otero took its first lead of the game with one minute to play and made it hold up for the win.
An Achilles heel for the Cougars as a 12-of-34 effort at the free throw line.
“Free throws are mental. It just gets between your ears,” Coach Fletchall said. “We had good shooters miss. It was a tough one but things happen for a reason. I’m not sure play as well the second night if we don’t go through what we did the first night.”
Sophomore Tyrone Acuff led Barton with 18 in the loss followed by Charles with 15. Mack added 12.
Things won’t get an easier for Barton as they head to Iowa for a pair of tough games this weekend. The Cougars will play perennial national power Indian Hills in the Indian Hills Classic on Friday then take on Western Iowa Tech College Saturday.