Madison Southern Coach Shane Buttry doesn’t shy from talking about rival Madison Central and its state-record streak of 21 straight 44th District boys’ basketball titles.
Most of those crowns came at the Eagles’ expense. And Buttry has been on the sideline for each of those seasons, 14 as head coach and seven more as an assistant.
“Oh, I think about it every day,” Buttry said ahead of Thursday’s Senior Night win against Whitley County. “I’m doing my best to focus on these two games remaining and Berea on Monday, because you never know what’s going to happen. So, we’re trying our best to focus on that before we go to Central.
“But, I’d be lying if I say I haven’t been watching a lot of Central tape.”
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Buttry, who played for Madison Southern as part of the school’s first graduating class in 1989, starts four seniors anchored by what he believes is one of the best backcourts in the 11th Region in Caleb Miller and Michael Jefferson.
The two have been part of teams that lost to Madison Central 42-41 last year in the 44th finals, 70-62 in overtime in the 2015 district first round, and 89-65 in the 2014 district finals. The first loss this season for Madison Southern (24-5)? Its season opener, 65-63, at Madison Central in their only scheduled matchup.
“Losing to them three years (at district) … in the halls we just hear students talk about it every day,” Jefferson said. Beating the rival Indians is “ our goal. That’s what we’ve wanted to do since we’ve been here.”
Miller said it wouldn’t matter to him if the Eagles only won one game, “as long as we beat Central.”
Miller, a shooting guard, leads the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game, many of them from behind the arc where he shoots 31.5 percent.
“He’s kind of the stat-stuffer. He can get rebounds, deflections, steals and guard the other team’s best off-the-ball player,” Buttry said. “He’s about a 5-11 kid that pours it on the floor.”
Jefferson plays mostly point guard and leads the team in rebounds at 6.2 per game to go along with his 15-point scoring average. He had a triple-double — 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists — against Whitley County.
“He’s probably the best passer we’ve ever had,” Buttry said of the four-year starter.
Rounding out the starting lineup are senior forward Bryar Rose, a Central transfer, junior guard Shawn Short and an undersized 6-1 senior center in Noah Marshall, who always draws the assignment of defending the other team’s best post player.
“He does so many things people don’t notice,” Buttry said. “He’s not going to post a bunch of stats, but when you watch tape, you realize what he does.”
After an 0-3 start, the Eagles reeled off 12 straight wins before falling to Lafayette 57-53 in the midseason Toyota Classic. A layup attempt to beat West Jessamine two weeks later bounced out with two seconds left. But Buttry has seen his team shrug off those setbacks.
“We have great chemistry,” he said. “The kids just like each other and we play extremely hard. We have to.”
Madison Southern tied a school record with its 24th win of the season Friday night, a 69-59 victory at Frankfort. It will have a chance to set the all-time mark in its first-round district tournament game Monday against Berea (12-16). Southern throttled Berea 79-43 in their only meeting on Jan. 13.
The school record “does mean a lot, but it doesn’t,” Buttry said. “Because next week when I’m at the district tournament standing on the floor warming up, I couldn’t care less what happened in December and January. It’s what’s happening then and now, because everybody’s 0-0 when you get to that point.”
This season ranks as Buttry’s best at the helm.
“It’s great. You know, we’re stuck there in the middle of the 11th Region. And if you’re the eighth, ninth, 10th best team in the 11th Region, you’re probably two, three or four in a lot of regions,” he said. “We don’t get a lot of love or respect much, but that’s OK, we kind of like that little underdog role.”
Oh, and who was the last team other than Madison Central to win the 44th District title?
It was the Madison Southern team that set the program’s wins record with a 70-62 overtime victory in the 1995 finals …
… over Madison Central.
44th District first round: Berea vs. Madison Southern
When: 7:45 p.m. Monday
Where: EKU’s Alumni Coliseum