BY CHAD DARE
Kylen Butler made just six field goals in Danville’s first five games at the Lincoln Thanksgiving Tournament.
The junior guard came into Friday’s Big 12 Conference contest with the Decatur Eisenhower Panthers, averaging just 3.0 points per game for the Vikings.
But, this time around it was ‘The Butler’ coming through for Danville in its 73-62 win over Eisenhower.
“I just stayed positive,’’ said Butler, who had a career-high 28 points, making 6-of-7 behind the 3-point arc. “I kept my confidence like the coaches had been telling me. I kept working hard and they started falling.
“It felt good.’’
It was quite a contrast from the season-opener for Butler, who was 0-for-11 and 0-5 from 3-point range in that Nov. 19 contest against Champaign Centennial.
“It felt like I was producing more for the team, picking it up in my role as a starter,’’ Butler said. “When you play hard, sooner or later the shots are going to start falling.
“I knew I could hit those shots.’’
And first-year coach Ted Houpt had no doubt that Butler, who was shooting just over 20 percent from the field, was going to find his rhythm.
“We have always had confidence in him,’’ Houpt said. “I’ve seen him shooting for hours and hours, every day, all summer long, all fall long. I know he is a shooter.’’
And Butler hasn’t let his shooting woes carry over to other aspects of his game. That’s why Houpt has kept the 6-foot-4 guard in the starting lineup.
“He has been playing great defense and he takes care of the ball,’’ Houpt said. “He makes good decisions and plays great defense, there is always a place on the floor for someone like that.
“We knew he would come around — we didn’t know it would come all at once. His shooting gave us a cushion to play through our mistakes.’’
While Butler was making 10-of-13 shots from the field helping the Vikings shoot a season-best 52.9 percent from the field, the team struggled with a game-high 20 turnovers, while also producing 18 assists.
“We made some nice passes and we made some really unnecessary ones that became turnovers,’’ Houpt said. “The pressure wasn’t that intense — I don’t think it was 20 turnovers intense.
“We’ve seen some tough pressure this year and we handled it better.’’
What really frustrated Houpt was the seven offensive miscues in the fourth quarter as Danville (2-4 overall, 1-1 in the Big 12) held a double-digit lead.
“It was a good win, but we need to finish stronger,’’ Butler said. “We need to play better. We had too many silly mistakes.’’
Not only did Butler’s play help the Vikings overcome so of their offensive miscues but senior guard Te’Von Hutcherson scored all 10 of his points in the first half, to go along with five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“Te’Von made some good smart moves,’’ Houpt said. “He is always there defensively and he is earning minutes because of his defense.’’
Another spark in the first half came from junior Trent Sherfield, who made his season debut on Friday night. Sherfield had nine points, but it was his dive on the floor steal in the second quarter that ignited the Vikings a 9-0 run.
“He did what we thought he could do for us,’’ Houpt said. “That dive on the floor is symbolic of what we’ve seen from him in practice.’’
Senior forward Daniel Carter joined Butler and Hutcherson in double figures with 13 points and six rebounds, while junior Denzel Smith was held to only five points, but Smith had seven rebounds and five assists for the Vikings. He shared team-high honors in assists with Marcus Merriweather, who also had eight points.
Dylan Smith was the leading scorer for Eisenhower (1-3 overall, 0-1 in the Big 12) with 15, while Deshwan Davis had 14 and Jabree Bond-Flournoy had 12.
In the sophomore contest, Eisenhower defeated Danville 50-32. Leading scorers for the Vikings were Montrell Smith with 10, while Aubrey Duncan had seven.