CHARLOTTE – Butler took the first swing and opened up a confident early lead, but a 24-8 Independence run to close the first half and a relentless Patriot offensive and defensive effort the rest of the way led to a relatively easy 55-41 win.
It also distanced the two teams quickly heading in opposite directions. With the win, Independence (9-5 overall, 4-0 in conference) grabbed sole possession of first place in the Southwestern 4A, while Butler (6-8, 2-2) watched another game get away as they dropped their third straight after a four-game win streak.
The Bulldogs opened an 11-4 lead early on, but Independence came roaring back, closing the first quarter on a 9-3 spurt followed by a 13-5 advantage in the second quarter when not much was falling for the Bulldogs.
The Patriots went into the locker room confident, but Butler opened on a 9-0 run of their own to open the second half and tie the score at 28.
After Butler’s 7-foot sophomore center Patrick Wessler picked up his fourth foul with 1:57 left to go in the third quarter and Butler down four, the momentum shifted back to the Patriots for good as they outscored the Bulldogs 23-13 the rest of the way.
“The kid is a young, talented, skilled big,” Independence coach Preston Davis said of Wessler, who led Butler with a game-high 15 points. “He’s gotten better every time that I’ve seen him. He’s a handful, but we played as physical as we could with him, contested some shots and gave him a little trouble. Him getting in foul trouble hurt them.”
The Patriot defense was stout on Wessler inside, particularly from De’Drick Givens (six points and eight rebounds) and Omarion Bodrick (seven points and 14 rebounds) on the interior.
Butler transfer Nate Hinton was the only Patriot in double figures with 10 points, but Givens, Bodrick, Landon King (nine points), Cameron Little (nine points) and Nygell Verdier (four points) all contributed.
The distribution of scoring was in part due to the unselfish play of Anthony Allen, the Patriots’ leading scorer who came in averaging a team-best 17.1 points and coming off a 34-point game in the final of the East Lincoln Winter Jam.
Allen was 4-of-12 in this one for nine points, but the senior rarely forced a shot and also had six steals, five assists and three rebounds.
“Anthony is a scorer and a big scorer for us, and he knows that,” Davis said. “I think he did a great job adjusting to the flow of the game and still contributing without taking many shots in the second half. He had some big-time assists for us down the stretch.”
The win is the seventh for the Patriots over their past eight games and a sign of how far this team has come since a 2-4 start.
“We have made a conscious effort to try to get better every day,” Davis said. “After our Christmas tournament even, we’ve made strides getting better and better and it’s paying off. We’re starting to play a little bit more unselfish, and I think we did a great job of that tonight. You’ve got to be, though, if you want to be a championship team.”
Despite the semi-slow start, this collection of players starring in different roles is starting to become one.
And they’re in a familiar spot sitting atop the conference they’ve won each of the past two seasons.
“We’ve got playing each other down pat, and we’re starting to gel and know where everyone is on the court,” Allen said. “Defensively, we try to be aggressive and make the offense take just one shot. That’s our goal. We secure the ball and get out on offense. We need to keep playing the same way we’re playing, keep going hard in practice and keep making each other better.”