SIDNEY — A hot start and a hot finish proved to be a winning formula on Tuesday night as the Butler Aviators went on the road and defeated Sidney in the de facto Greater Western Ohio Conference North division championship game.
Butler (19-2 overall, 12-2 GWOC North) jumped out to a 15-0 lead and closed the game on a 10-2 run to pull away for a 47-41 win in front of a sell out crowd.
“This is a night we will never forget,” said Butler senior Ryan Wertz. “This is something we will never forget.”
With a win over Tippecanoe on Friday, the Aviators will claim their first outright league title since 2003.
Butler couldn’t have asked for a better start. Cold shooting by the Yellow Jackets and good execution by the Aviators saw Butler jumped out to a 15-0 lead to open the game. Sidney’s first points came at the 1:00 mark of the first quarter on a pair of made free throws.
Those points sparked an 18-0 run by the home team however as Butler went nearly five minutes without scoring. Quentin Glover finally ended the drought, but Sidney still held a 22-21 lead at the half.
“Coach Wyrick said in practice this week that we hadn’t really faced adversity,” said Butler senior Bryant Johnson. “Tonight we faced adversity and got the job done. It’s all about fighting and heart. Put us up against anybody, they aren’t going out without a fight.”
“I told them before the game that this would be a game of runs,” said Butler head coach DJ Wyrick. “I told them that the team that handles that adversity the best was going to win the game. The team that gets rattled first loses. I felt like we never got rattled even in that horrible stretch.”
Back to back baskets by Sidney’s star Andre Gordon gave the Jackets their largest lead of the game at 29-24 midway through the third period, but Butler sharp-shooter Braedon Norman was just heating up. Norman hit two three-pointers and a layup as the Aviators closed the quarter on an 8-3 spurt to retake the lead at 34-32.
Norman led all scorers in the game with 18 points.
“When you are feeling it, your teammates get you the ball and you make shots,” said Norman. “Last week I was 1-for-7 against Troy but you can’t stop shooting, you know they are going to fall sometime.”
Sidney made a final push with five quick points to open the fourth quarter, but the Aviators made big plays down the stretch. Bryant Johnson hit a pair of free throws with 3 minutes left to tie the score at 39-39, and Ryan Wertz hit a three pointer from the left elbow with 1:48 to play that gave Butler the lead for good at 42-39. Johnson nailed a pair of free throws with 21.5 seconds left to seal the win.
“All these guys believe in me, and told me before those free throws they believed in me,” said Johnson. “That’s all it takes. Have people believe in you and you can do anything in the world.”
Butler won the game despite playing its second straight without Michael Kreill, the team’s leading scorer and point guard. Wertz said the Aviators knew they needed to step up and fill the void left by Kreill’s absence.
“We obviously lose a great scorer and great defender in Micheal, so I knew we needed someone to step up, someone had to make the big plays,” said Wertz. “I just tried to attack the rim as much as I could and then play tough on the defensive end and be fundamentally sound.”
Butler will host Tippecanoe on Friday for senior night. Tip time is set for 7:30 p.m.
Reach Darrell Wacker at (937) 684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.