VANDALIA — The Butler Aviators have become accustomed to slow starts – but none this season has been quite as slow as the showing Friday night when the West Carrollton Pirates came calling. In a display of offensive ineptitude rarely seen on the varsity level, the two teams slogged through a first quarter that left the score at just 4-3 after the first eight minutes of play.
Butler’s defense came to the rescue as it has all season by forcing 17 turnovers in the first half that eventually led to a 66-51 win in Greater Western Ohio Conference crossover play.
Butler improved to 12-2 overall and 7-2 in the GWOC North while West Carrollton fell to 4-11 overall and 1-7 in league play.
In spite of the win, Butler coach DJ Wyrick was not happy with how his team handled prosperity – and a 30 point lead – in the fourth quarter.
“I’m trying to stay positive about this win, but what would have been great is if we had beat this team by 40, send a message to the rest of the league, and then find out Sidney just lost to Fairborn, this locker room should have been on fire,” said a frustrated Wyrick. “It wasn’t because the first 3-4 minutes weren’t a good start offensively and then we were really good until the fourth quarter.”
This one wasn’t pretty early. Playing short-handed without senior guard – and starter – Braedon Norman and Quentin Glover, the Aviators looked out of sync from the beginning. It took Butler over three minutes before they got their first basket by Ryan Wertz, but the Pirates were even more hamstrung as the Aviator defense forced 6 first quarter turnovers while holding West Carrollton scoreless for the first five minutes of the game.
“Defense wins championships,” said Wyrick. “You can survive a poor shooting night, but you can’t survive a poor defensive night. We were awful offensively in the first quarter, but our defense kept us in the game. That’s been a constant all year.”
The Pirates took the lead 4-2 with 1:05 to play in the quarter and took a 4-3 edge into the second period.
After that, the Aviators finally solved West Carrollton’s zone as they opened the quarter on a 7-0 run. Bryant Johnson scored inside and, after the Pirates cut Butler’s lead to 10-9, the Aviators outscored West Carrollton 15-2 over the remainder of the half to take a 25-11 lead at half.
Three pointers by Tyler Montegue, Wertz, and Spencer Imwalle, who scored a career-high 11 points, fueled the rally.
As has been the case all season, the third quarter belonged to the Aviators. Montegue scored 10 points on a pair of threes and two steals as Butler went on an 18-6 run to open the half which finally forced a timeout with 4:00 to play in the quarter. The Aviators would eventually build a 50-20 advantage before pulling their starters.
The Pirates didn’t go easy though. West Carrollton hit five three-pointers over the final five minutes of the game that finally forced a timeout by the Aviators after their 30 point advantage had been cut in half at 61-46 with 1:27 to play which left Wyrick frustrated.
“The fourth quarter comes and we put all these dudes in and it becomes I’m going to get my points basketball,” said Wyrick. “This is a great learning lesson for our team. When you play like that, you give up 30 points in a quarter and you don’t shoot very good because it goes away from team basketball and everything we talk about as a program. It’s incredibly frustrating for me because those dudes have been great late in games. But for whatever reason tonight it became I’m going to get mine time in the fourth quarter and we completely fell apart.”
The Aviators will face perhaps their final stern test next week until they face Sidney when they travel to Xenia. That game, currently scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Xenia, may be moved to be part of the Flying to the Hoop event at Kettering’s Trent Arena if teams are unable to travel to Kettering due to the weather.
The Buccs feature the GWOC’s leading scorer, Samari Curtis, who was averaging 32.5 points per game prior to Friday’s game versus Greenville. Curtis scored 31 on the Aviators last season in a thriller as Butler escaped with a 61-58 win at home.
With Sidney falling at Fairborn on Friday with a game versus Trotwood looming, suddenly a path to the GWOC North championship has opened for the Aviartors.
“Xenia is going to be a tough game because, lets face it, when you have the best player on the floor you are always going to have a chance to win,” said Wyrick. “This is the game. At Xenia, with that level of player. The beauty is if things play out as they are supposed to, then its us versus Sidney its either ours or its yours, there’s no sharing. That’s assuming both teams handle their business.”
Reach Darrell Wacker at (937) 684-8983).