I've spent lots of time praising Laney in the lead up to region competition. But the attention I have given the Wildcats should not be seen as a signal that I believe Butler does not have the chops to be our area's best region's best team. This senior heavy group is unique in its reliance on a single scorer, 6'2" Florida Atlantic bound guard Don Coleman, to generate much of the offense. But regardless of the team's source of points, the Bulldogs are a cohesive unit. Coach Cervantes Boddy's group proved that Tuesday by earning a hard fought, 67-60 victory in a hostile environment against a red hot region foe, Josey.
Great teams react well to adversity. And they win on the road in difficult circumstances. Butler (8-1, 1-0) showed signs of greatness Tuesday, absorbing the best Josey had to give and coming back twice from 8 point deficits, one at halftime and one midway through the fourth quarter, and making the necessary plays to earn the road win. Coleman led the way with 19 points. 6'6" junior Ricquail Smoot added 12. And a trio of seniors (Jaylon Archie, Ben Rhodes, and Ty'keith McClattie) combined to score 27 points, including a fourth quarter burst that put the Bulldogs ahead for good.
Senior guard Darius Williams led Josey with 21 points, and Donald Jordan chipped in 15.
Butler's next test is another difficult road game against a region foe, Washington County (Friday). Josey is off until after Christmas.
The game's first half was probably the most entertaining chunk of high school basketball I've seen this season. With Archie and McClattie draped all over him, Josey's Williams made some extremely difficult shots from all angles on his way to 14 first half points. And at almost every turn, Coleman answered with an equally impressive basket at the other end. Accustomed to zooming the AugBball camera on the player who makes a basket as he runs back on defense, my buddy who filmed the game barely caught two Coleman answers to Williams' buckets because he retaliated so quickly. The teams' full court man-to-man pressing styles mixed with the offensive firepower of these two produced a spectacle that electrified the gym. By halftime, Josey had made a couple more shots than Butler and built a 34-26 lead.
But certain signs were already emerging that implied this would be Butler's night. Archie and McClattie were making Williams work so hard for his points that it would take a one of a kind performance even for Darius to repeat his first half heroics in the second half. Kudos to the Bulldogs' gritty seniors for keeping Williams in front of them and making him take difficult jump shots for four quarters. These shots didn't fall in the second half nearly as often as the first.
Butler roared back into the lead early in the third quarter as McClattie made two timely baskets and Butler maintained its defensive tenacity. But Josey got some well timed offensive help from Jordan and sophomore Dominique Hurst, taking another 8 point lead in the fourth quarter, and with Coleman on the bench, Josey appeared to be on its way to victory.
I've written a lot about Laney's effort level being the single biggest reason for their early season success. Most high school teams have similar talent levels. All the kids from all the schools play with and against each other 12 months a year from a very young age. When the regular season comes, it is usually the teams that consistently play the hardest that separate themselves. The effort and intensity Butler displayed in Tuesday's fourth quarter especially (but it was great all night) was second to that of no team I've seen this season, including Laney. Rhodes, McClattie, Archie, and Jzwa Collier led a furious comeback filled with steals, offensive rebounds, and floor burns. Smoot chipped in some timely blocks to ignite transition opportunities. And before I could blink, Butler had erased Josey's lead and gotten an important road victory to begin the region schedule.
I've watched some of the area's players so much that I sometimes feel like a far off coach to many of them. I've shared that I like Don Coleman and root for him to be successful. Many have noticed that this season he seems particularly eager to lead a great team. I've certainly noticed this too. So when Butler finished its game deciding run with him on the bench Tuesday, I wondered what his reaction would be. This clip is one of my favorites because it shows his jubilation as he greets his teammates/friends as they come to the bench following a Butler basket that punctuated the game deciding run. He nearly knocks a teammate over with a chest bump!
A game like Tuesday's is heavy on running and shooting, often from deep and without many passes. This is not the ideal environment to display the offensive abilities of a post player. But the Bulldogs were wise in making a concerted effort to get Ricquail Smoot the ball deep in the post. They were rewarded with high percentage shots. Smoot may be the area's most skilled offensive post player. He made key contributions on the glass, protecting the paint, and in the post. He also showed his soft shooting touch with a second half three pointer.
And Josey's Javen Whitehead (6'3" sophomore) impacted the game around the basket as well. He is very athletic and physical. He changed and blocked shots and rebounded and scored off the offensive glass.