VANDALIA – So often this season the Butler Aviators have played opponents close only to fail to get over the hump for a win.
They changed that Saturday night.
Butler rallied from an eight point deficit midway through the third period to claim a 40-39 win at the Butler Student Activities Center in front of a raucous crowd.
First year coach DJ Wyrick said that crowd, and especially the student section, deserved a lot of credit for the win.
“Our student section has been great all season, and they were awesome tonight,” said Wyrick. “It was unreal. Our team definitely feeds off that.”
Northmont appeared to be in firm control early after taking a 9-2 lead and holding Butler to just one made basket over the game’s first five minutes. Jarell Taylor, who led all scorers with 15 points, had the first three points of the game and five in the quarter to lead Northmont to a 12-7.
Butler opened the second period on a 7-0 run on baskets by Zach Ledbetter and Brian Jenkins to take their first lead at 14-12. Jabari Perkins gave the Thunderbolts a 23-21 lead at intermission as he hit a three-pointer just ahead of the buzzer.
Butler looked to be in trouble in the third quarter as Northmont built a 29-21 lead but the Aviators closed the period on a 9-2 run on baskets by Jenkins, Aaron Fields, and James Clark to trail just 31-30 heading into the final period.
Noah Ballard hit a three-pointer early in the final period to tie the score at 33-33, and Butler took the lead on a pair of free throws by Torin Fletcher.
Northmont battled back to take a 38-37 lead, and then took the air out of the ball.
With 3:48 remaining, Northmont elected to dribble out front to force the Aviators to come out of their zone defense. Nearly two minutes leaked off the clock before Butler came out to play man-to-man.
“We just wanted to shorten the game and limit possessions. They want to run and gun and we didn’t want to play that way. If they were going to eat two and a half minutes off the clock for us so be it.”
A steal by Butler’s Ballard set up a three-pointer by Fletcher with 1:20 left to give the Aviators a 40-38 lead. Another steal by Ballard gave the ball back to the Aviators with 57 seconds remaining.
“Noah is kid that we can’t take out of the game,” said Wyrick. “He’s a competitor, and even in practice he is diving on the floor for balls. That’s the kind of kid he is, and that’s the kind of thing we are trying to build here.”
Northmont’s Taylor hit one of a pair of free throws with 33 seconds left. With fouls to give, the Aviators fouled to run clock. Finally, with six seconds left, Northmont took a runner down the lane that would have been the game winner but it was off to the right and went out of bounds to Butler with 0.9 seconds left.
Fletcher led the Aviators with 10 points followed by Ledbetter with eight. Ledbetter and Jenkins had six rebounds each. Fields had three assists.
Wyrick said that the season has been building to a win like this.
“At the end of the day, we came in with one guy who had varsity experience,” he said. “If we had played these guys early in the year we would have turned the ball over 35 times. Now, they all have experience because we play such a big rotation and they are comfortable against the press.”
Wrick said the win was a confidence builder for his team and a payoff for better play over the past few weeks.
“This was huge, and being at home makes it better,” said Wyrick. “I have told our kids at halftime that people were excited about this team and the way they play basketball and were really getting into it. It was time for us to pay our fans back for showing us that support.
“We couldn’t have played any better basketball than we have the last two games except for a two minute stretch at Trotwood where we gave it away. They are starting to learn the X’s and O’s and developing a basketball IQ.”
Butler (4-10 overall, 0-5 GWOC North) will host Xenia on Tuesday evening and then travel to Sidney on Friday night.
Reach Darrell Wacker at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.