HUTCHINSON — Steve Eck stared straight ahead as he noted the precision with which his Hutchinson men’s basketball team was picked apart during Wednesday’s first half against Butler.
Eck can classify himself as a defensive guru, and there wasn’t much need for detail while discussing an opponent affecting a game the way his teams usually do.
“They just played a switching man-to-man defense,” Eck said of the Grizzlies. “And they did it without fouling.”
There was plenty of detail behind that straightforward description, as No. 4 Butler used an all-encompassing defense to hold down No. 6 Hutchinson in the first half before surviving a late flurry to win 72-62 in a Jayhawk Conference West game at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
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No. 4 Butler improved to 16-0 for the first time since 1996-97, when Eck coached the Grizzlies. No. 6 Hutchinson lost for the first time in 14 games.
“Coming out of practices this week, I didn’t know if this group knew how to beat (Hutchinson),” Butler coach Mike Bargen said. “They came out in the first half and really clogged the lane, took charges, blocked shots. I was really impressed. It wasn’t something that I saw (Tuesday in practice).”
Butler did a little bit of everything defensively in taking a 34-20 halftime lead, which it would stretch to 18 points early in the second half. The Grizzlies blocked three shots, had 10 steals and stayed with the bigger Blue Dragons on the boards before winning the rebounding battle 48-43.
Hutchinson did a lot to itself, too. The Blue Dragons never discovered a patient approach against Butler’s fast-moving defense, and often they settled for perimeter shots even though they owned a size advantage by starting four players 6-foot-6 or taller.
Those missed shots didn’t just come from three-point range, where Hutchinson was 0 for 11 in the first half. The Blue Dragons missed 24 of 30 shots before halftime and didn’t score consecutive baskets until the 11:13 mark of the second half.
“Part of (settling for three-pointers) was their defense,” Eck said. “I wanted them to get (those shots) within the offense. We can shoot three-pointers well. Whatever it was tonight, we missed them.”
As both teams struggled to score early, there was an opening for one to make a run and take control, which Butler did with a 15-5 run that broke a 10-10 tie.
Much of the Grizzlies’ offense came from Kyle Steward and Lamar Wofford, who combined for 35 points. But during that first-half run, those two combined to contribute two baskets apiece.
That barely set Steward and Wofford apart, though, because five players scored during the run, and Jacolby Harris made two free throws following the Hutchinson basket that stopped it.
Butler shot 34.8 percent, worse than Hutchinson at 35.5 percent, but the Blue Dragons never duplicated that quick production, which they needed to get back in the game.
“They didn’t want to run, so we just out-ran them up and down the court,” Wofford said. “That made us a better team overall.”
Hutchinson’s leading scorer, DeShawn Freeman, had 18 points and 11 rebounds, but Butler’s defense didn’t forget about him. Freeman made 3 of 8 shots in the first half and was most of the Blue Dragons’ offense in the second, at least when they threatened to make a run.
Freeman scored four baskets in a row for Hutchinson and the Blue Dragons eventually got their deficit to six points, but the Grizzlies finished on the strength of making 16 of 18 second-half free throws.
“It doesn’t hurt to solidify (the record and national ranking),” Bargen said. “We’ve accomplished some good things thus far, Hutch has done the same. Throw the rankings out, we’re big rivals. Both teams are 1-0 (in conference) and trying to be 2-0.”
BUTLER (16-0): Steward 6-15 6-8 19, Byrd 1-7 2-2 4, Joiner 3-5 2-2 9, Harris 0-7 6-6 6, Wofford 7-10 2-3 16, Neal 1-3 2-2 4, Howell 3-6 1-2 7, Akao 0-1 0-0 0, House 2-7 2-2 7, Rowell 0-2 0-0 0, Williams 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 23-66 23-27 72.
HUTCHINSON (13-1): Winter 0-4 0-0 0, Ahmed 1-4 2-6 4, Budke 5-12 6-11 16, Aly 0-1 0-2 0, Freeman 8-17 2-5 18, Bob 5-9 5-6 16, Hoffman 2-9 0-0 5, Robertson 0-1 0-0 0, Craig 0-0 0-0 0, Simons 0-0 0-0 0, Pinder 1-5 1-2 3. Totals 22-62 16-32 62.
Three-point shooting—Butler 3-14 (Steward 1-1, Joiner 1-2, House 1-5, Neal 0-1, Akao 0-1, Byrd 0-2, Harris 0-2), Hutchinson 2-20 (Bob 1-3, Hoffman 1-5, Robertson 0-1, Pinder 0-1, Budke 0-2, Freeman 0-2, Winter 0-3, Ahmed 0-3). Rebounds—Butler 48 (Wofford 13), Hutchinson 43 (Freeman 11). Total fouls—Butler 24, Hutchinson 25. Assists—Butler 11 (Howell 5), Hutchinson 10 (Winter, Hoffman, Robertson 2).