Last week was a big week for Knob Noster senior center David Barton.
On Jan. 28 against Sherwood, he pulled down his 718th career rebound, breaking Cullen Rosine’s school record. On Thursday in a win over Nevada (Mo.), he scored his 1,000th career point. He said breaking Rosine’s record was something he had his eye on since his freshman year.
“He was a big inspiration for me,” Barton said. “He just set the bar high so I decided I had to break it.”
Barton’s 1,000th point came in the fourth quarter against Nevada when Austin Parrott found him in the paint. Barton said the points mark was not one of his big goals.
Averaging a double-double this year with 12.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, Barton has gotten there with steady play. He has only been held under 10 points in four games and has grabbed fewer than 10 rebounds six times this season.
“He’s just a great kid to coach,” said Panthers coach Adam Easterwood. “He’s an ultimate team player. We asked him going into the year what his goals were, he wouldn’t put anything down numbers-wise. It wasn’t ‘I want to get so many points per game’ or ‘I want to get so many rebounds.’ He wants to do well and he wants the success of the team.”
Barton is second on the team in scoring this season, behind Brett Marsh who averages 15.9 points per game, including five games breaking the 20-point mark.
“Brett’s obviously a gifted scorer and always has been,” Easterwood said. “He’s really improved immensely on defense in his four years. He’s put a high priority on defensive rebounding and picked up his first double-double the other day (against Sherwood).”
Marsh has done much of his damage from 3-point range, including the Panthers’ win over Holden when he shot 5 for 5 from 3-point range. For the season, he’s shooting 39 percent from behind the arc, and several of his teammates are following suit. Hayden Anderson is shooting 33 percent from long range. Jon McKenzie shoots 41 percent. Junior Garnett Williams, though he has fewer attempts from 3-point range, is still hitting 6 of 14.
“We do a lot of partner shooting drills, and just before and after practice, we do a lot of single-player, one-on-one shooting,” Anderson said. “One of the things we built up this year is confidence in our shots. When I pass it to a teammate, I’m 100 percent confident he’s going to make it.”
Anderson’s faith in his teammates has been rewarded in 4.1 assists per game.
“When we have set plays, he knows exactly where we’re going to be,” Marsh said. “Even when the play is busted, he knows where we’ll be. He always does a great job in locating the shooters.”
Ultimately, a team facing Knob Noster has to pick its poison.
“If teams make up their mind that they’re going to shut down David, then that leaves our shooters on the outside, and our shooters can make them pay,” Easterwood said. “If they want to spread the court and leave David on an island in the middle, then we’re more than happy to take that.”
When defenses key on Barton, the Panthers can go to an inside-out game, sending an entry pass into the low post and having Barton kick it out to a teammate when the defense collapses down.
“We’ve gotten a lot of open looks this year with that,” Anderson said.
Marsh said another key to Knob Noster’s shooting has been staying active.
“Always looking for your shot, even when you don’t have the ball, and also set plays,” he said. “Coach draws us up good plays, and most of the time that gives us an open look.”
The Panthers went 19-7 last year but have gotten even better this season, jumping out to a 17-1 record.
“I think we’re a year older; we’re a year smarter,” Easterwood said. “The experience and the success we had last year, and we’re one year better. The kids are growing. Not only are they physically stronger, their knowledge of the game is one year stronger as well.”
The experience comes from the Panthers’ senior class with Barton, Anderson, Marsh and McKenzie leading the way. McKenzie, Marsh and Barton have started for three years, and Anderson is a two year starter who saw some time on varsity as a sophomore. They have played a lot of minutes overall and played a lot together.
“We all work together very well,” Barton said. “We’ve got that chemistry that you get whenever you play with each other for five or six years. It definitely helps.”
On Friday comes the next big test. The Panthers and Higginsville Huskers will meet for the third time this season. The teams split the first two games and are unbeaten against all of their other opponents. On Jan. 11, the Huskers pulled out a 45-44 win on a 27-footer with four seconds to go. The Panthers returned the favor three days later with a 58-52 regular-season win in Knob Noster.
“We know their style of play; we know what techniques they’re going to throw at us,” Marsh said. “Obviously, they’re a very good team, and we respect them a lot so we’re going to have to be on our ‘A’ game.”
The Huskers come into the game with a four-game winning streak, having picked up regular-season wins over St. Paul Lutheran and Carrollton since the loss to Knob Noster and winning a pair of games at the Slater tournament with the championship game against Sacred Heart still pending.
“I expect pretty much the same pace game we had last time,” Barton said. “I expect it to be close. I don’t expect either team to break away. It will just be whoever makes the most shots and whoever shows up will win that game.”
Last year, the Panthers faced the Huskers four times with Knob Noster coming away with a 59-52 overtime win at home in the regular season, but Higginsville won the other three, including a 54-37 win in the district final.
“We learned that you’ve got to hit some shots and you’ve got to take care of the ball,” Marsh said. “Turnovers usually went for two at the other end.”
The 58 points Knob Noster scored in its win over the Huskers are the most Higginsville has allowed this season. The 59 the Panthers scored in their overtime win last year were the most the Huskers allowed until an overtime win in the district tournament over St. Paul.
“If we come out with energy and ready to play, then we’ll succeed,” Anderson said. “We’ll just play our game. We know it’s a close matchup.”