Despite taking a 13-0 lead to start the game, the Butler men had to fight to the end to finally put away a determined Garden City squad 82-74 in the conference opener for both teams.
The Grizzlies, ranked fifth nationally, remain undefeated at 15-0 on the season and are now 1-0 in the Jayhawk West. When they scored the first 13 points of the contest, it looked like Butler might cruise past the Broncbusters (11-4, 0-1). Jacolby Harris scored eight of those points including a 3-pointer and a dunk.
Garden City, however, would chip away at the lead throughout the first half and took a 34-32 lead following a Gage Loy 3-pointer with 1:22 left in the period. Butler scored the final five points of the half with a Chris Howell layup to tie the game followed by a 3-pointer with Damien Akao with 15 seconds to play as Butler led 37-34 at the break.
The game stayed tight to start the second half. When Myrek Fowlkes made two free throws with 13:20 to play, Butler's lead was down to just a point at 52-51. The Grizzlies would go on a 25-9 run, capped by another 3-pointer from Damien Akao with 4:43 to play that put Butler up 77-60.
Garden City scored 10 straight points, but Derrick Byrd's driving layup snapped a three-minute scoreless streak for Butler and put the lead at 79-70 with 1:29 to go. Garden City would get no closer than eight points the rest of the contest.
The game, which was marred by 66 fouls called, took nearly two and a half to play. The two teams shot 82 free throws, with Butler making 26 of 44 and Garden City going 24-38.
Kyle Steward led Butler with 14 points while Caelan Neal had 12 off the bench. Jacolby Harris had 11 points, all in the first half. Damien Akao had nine and Chris Howell had eight. Derrick Byrd and Adrion Williams led Butler with six rebounds apiece. Garden City's Davon Anderson led all scorers with 20 points off the bench for the Broncbusters.
Butler will now take its undefeated record to Hutchinson on Wednesday for a top-10 showdown against No. 8 Hutchinson. With a win, Butler would match its best start since the 1996-97 season when the Grizzlies went 16-0. The Blue Dragons (13-1, 0-0) had their Saturday game against Dodge City postponed due to weather and will face Garden City on the road on Monday.