By Colin Shields
SALINA – Finding a way.
Unlike the Butler football team, the men’s basketball team was able to keep their No. 3 seed in the Region 6 Tournament, leading to a matchup vs. the No. 2 Hutchinson Blue Dragons in the tournament semifinals Friday at Tony’s Pizza Events Center.
Hutch entered the game having swept the regular-season series in two very different games winning 104-95 and 75-66. The Blue Dragons picked up Friday where they left off on Tuesday vs. Pratt and came away with a 92-85 victory.
Blue Dragons coach Tommy DeSalme attributes his team’s ability to respond to a tight game with such high success because of the schedule they’ve played this year.
“Until the other night, we hadn’t been in a blowout game all year,” DeSalme said. “It’s been four points either way it seems like, and that’s the way it’s been since game one with us. This team finds a way.”
The Blue Dragnons came out of the gates hot immediately, going to work on the offensive side of the court. Kaimen Lennox scored five points on the first two Hutchinson possessions, and then scored again two possessions, later giving the Blue Dragons seven of their nine points on their first five possessions. The Blue Dragons Dragons would take a 14-5 lead five minutes into the game and continue to build off of it. A Jacquez Yow 3-pointer pushed the score to 27-15, giving the Blue Dragons a 12-point lead with 11 minutes left in the first half.
A strong block by Josiah Harris led to a Yow free throw on the other end and after the rebound on the second was knocked out of bounds, Harris found the net with a layup on the inbounds pass to extend the lead to 16.
The next possession, Jayden Garrison got out in transition and knocked down a 3-point basket to push the lead to 18, the largest of the night.
Butler would fight their way back into it to make it a nine-point game as Hutch would take a 45-36 lead into halftime.
Coming out of halftime, the Grizzlies’ hot start narrowed the Blue Dragon lead to just four points. Tarese Morse would put an end to their run with a jump shot to extend the lead back to six. With 12 minutes remaining, Butler once again got the lead back down to single digits. Back-to-back scores coming in the form of two Kobe Campbell free throws and a Nate Goodlow steal and slam dunk pushed the Blue Dragons’ lead back to 11 with 11:13 left in the game.
However, Butler would find an answer on offense and play tough defense to pull within two points around the six minute mark. A Josiah Harris jump hook followed by an offensive charge drawn by Jacquez Yow led to a Kaimen Lennox and one layup extending the lead back to nine with 5:00 left on the clock.
At the 1:05 mark, with an 85-78 lead, the Blue Dragons found themselves being fouled by Butler to force them to the free throw line. Hutch would convert on 7 of 10 free-throw attempts late.
The Blue Dragons advanced to the championship and will play Dodge City at 8 p.m. Saturday night.
“They’re so talented,” DeSalme said “They’re long, they’re athletic, they’re a gifted finishing team, and what they have is two high level elite guards. We respect the hell out of them and they respect us. I think it’s going to be a heck of a game.”
The win improved the Blue Dragons’ record to 25-7. With a win Saturday, the Blue Dragons will clinch a bid into the NJCAA national championship tournament hosted on their homecourt.