HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – For five Butler High School seniors who had accomplished so much over their basketball careers, this week was supposed to provide the exclamation mark.
But slowed by a slew of foul trouble and plagued by below-average shooting, the Bearettes’ season ended two days earlier than expected at the hands of a scrappy bunch from Murray.
Macey Turley hit 18 of 21 free throws and scored 25 points and Murray never trailed in shocking defending state champion Butler 65-56 on Friday in the quarterfinals of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Sweet 16 at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena.
No. 1 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings and No. 16 in the nation in the USA Today Super 25, Butler was trying to win its third state title in four years and its state-record sixth overall. Instead, the Bearettes finished the season with a 33-3 record.
“We’ve proven ourselves over and over throughout the year,” Butler coach Larry Just said. “Unfortunately it just didn’t come through this weekend.”
Butler had defeated Murray 68-58 in last year’s state semifinals and 68-50 earlier this season, but the No. 8 Tigers (28-5) kept their composure throughout Friday’s game.
“We felt like if we could get our kids to believe in themselves enough that we could overcome,” Murray coach Rechelle Turner said. “That’s exactly what they did. I felt good about it from the tip. I could just tell from the energy and the body language of our kids that they were going to go toe to toe with the best team.”
Murray landed a huge first punch, jumping to an 11-2 lead midway through the first quarter. Meanwhile, the fouls started piling up for Butler.
Top scorer Jaelynn Penn went out at the 3:53 mark with her second foul. Junior center Molly Lockhart picked up three fouls and went to the bench with 1:15 left in the first quarter.
“People keep talking about my depth, but if you paid attention to us all year we haven’t played that many kids,” Just said. “My top five or six kids play the majority of the minutes. So when some of those kids gets in foul trouble, we have to go a little deeper. Not that those kids aren’t capable … but they haven’t played on this stage.”
Murray led 29-18 at halftime and took its biggest lead, 31-18, on Alexis Burpo’s jumper to open the third quarter.
Butler twice pulled within six points in the third quarter and used a frantic full-court press to get within 55-50 on Teri Goodlett’s 3-pointer with 2:33 left in the fourth.
But Murray always had an answer and hit 12 of 14 free throws over the final 4:08 to seal its victory. The Tigers will face Mercer County in Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. semifinal.
“We never allowed them to get close enough where it was a one-possession game,” said Turner, whose team finished 27 of 35 (77.1 percent) from the free-throw line. “I thought that was vital. We were always able to make some free throws or get a good shot offensively. We stayed far enough away from them that if we did make a mistake it didn’t kill us.”
Added Just: “Trying to come from behind the whole night is something that’s a little unfamiliar to us. We’re usually winning most first quarters, but today we didn’t. We just couldn’t get back on top. Credit Murray. They had an outstanding game plan and performed extremely well.”
Butler scored 21 points off Murray’s 19 turnovers, but the Tigers negated that by scoring 20 points off the Bearettes’ 17 turnovers.
Just wouldn’t agree that Murray handled his team’s pressure better than it did last year or earlier this season.
“The reality is we didn’t come after them the way we needed to in the first quarter,” Just said. “As the game progressed and we decided to get after it, they started to do more things. Then it got to a point where we had to over-gamble, and now we’re giving up layups.”
Goodlett scored 19 points and Penn added 13 points and eight rebounds to lead Butler, which shot just 35.2 percent (19 of 54). Butler entered the game shooting a state-best 53 percent.
“I think we just killed ourselves,” senior guard Tasia Jeffries said. “We had a game plan, and we didn’t execute it the way that we wanted to.”
Mercer County 58, Clark County 47: University of Louisville commit Seygan Robins posted 26 points and four assists and the No. 2 Titans (29-6) scored the final 11 points of the game to beat the No. 16 Cardinals (30-5).
Jasmine Flowers nailed two free throws to tie the score at 47 with 5:19 left, but the Cardinals went 0 for 2 and committed five turnovers the rest of the way.
“I think we ran out of a little gas, and their superstar (Robins) played like a superstar,” Clark County coach Robbie Graham said.
Emmy Souder added 17 points and 15 rebounds for Titans, who won the rebounding battle 32-24.
Kennedy Igo had 18 points to lead Clark County.
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and email@example.com.
MURRAY 65, BUTLER 56
MURRAY (28-5) – Brittany Lawson 4p; Lex Mayes 12p, 3s; Macey Turley 25p, 4a; Maddie Waldrop 13p, 9rp; Alexis Burpo 9p, 8r; Grace Campbell 2p.
BUTLER (33-3) – Bre Torrens 2p, 6a; Tasia Jeffries 8p; Jaelynn Penn 13p, 8r; Teri Goodlett 19p; Molly Lockhart 1p, 11r; Kiara Cain 2p; Janna Lewis 11p, 4r, 4s.
MERCER COUNTY 58, CLARK COUNTY 47
MERCER COUNTY (29-6) – Seygan Robins 26p, 4a; Faith Lake 1p; Lexy lake 3p; Emmy Souder 17p, 15r; Lyric Houston 2p; Emma Davis 2p; Alie Burke 3p; Channing Lewis 4p.
CLARK COUNTY (30-5) – Kennedy Igo 18p; Maleaha Bell 4p, 5r; Shemaya Behanan 9p, 6r; Elizabeth Hardiman 4p; Hayley Harrison 3p; Jasmine Flowers 5p; Kylee Murray 2p; Tyra Flowers 2p.