TROTWOOD — The Butler Aviators came into Saturday’s sectional opener as the favorite over Belmont, but an unease hovered as the athletic and talented Bison presented an unknown challenge to the state-ranked Aviators despite their seeding.
That concern proved valid as the Aviators, despite leading most of the contest, found themselves in a tie game with 1:16 to play. As they have so often this season, Butler found a way down the stretch as they outlasted a strong fourth quarter push by Belmont to eke out a 60-56 win in the first round of the OHSAA Centerville sectional tournament.
“That first game in the tournament is always the toughest one to win,” said Butler head coach DJ Wyrick. “We competed to the end and played typical Butler basketball. We stayed steady and found a way to pull it out.”
Butler, who at 21-2, has won 21 games in a season for just the third time in school history, will face Fairmont (15-8) in a rematch of last year’s sectional final game in Wednesday’s sectional semifinal game at Centerville on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
Braedon Norman led a balanced attack by the Aviators with 19 points, 3 assists and a steal. Quentin Glover had 10 points while pulling down 7 rebounds, and Bryant Johnson scored 9 while grabbing 7 rebounds, 4 steals, and 2 blocked shots. Michael Kreill had 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.
The Aviators struggled to gain separation over Belmont all night long. Bryant Johnson was strong underneath early as he scored four of Butler’s first six points. Trailing 11-9, Braedon Norman connected on the first of his five three-pointers with 35 seconds left in the first quarter to give the Aviators a 12-11 lead.
Four quick points by Quentin Glover and a three by Norman followed by a basket by Johnson forced Belmont to call time after a 12-2 run gave the Aviators a 21-13 lead. The teams traded points to finish the third quarter with Butler maintaining its 8-point lead 26-18.
Belmont opened the third quarter with a three, but the Aviators responded with a pair of three-points by Norman and two baskets by Glover to open a lead as big as 11 at 36-25 with 4:28 to play in the third period. Glover gave the Aviators their biggest lead of the game at 48-35 before the Bison began a slow and steady climb back into the game.
Following a Belmont timeout with 5:14 left, the Bison went on a 14-2 run that ultimately tied the game at 56-56 with 1:16 to play. The experienced Aviators never flinched, though and a driving layup by Tyler Montague gave the Aviators the lead with 42 seconds left. Montague sealed the game 30 seconds later with a pair of free throws to set the final score at 60-56.
“We took some shots late we didn’t need to take,” Wyrick said. “We were aggressive and attacking which I liked but late in the game maybe we should have pulled it out and used more clock. But when you go 4-of-17 from the free throw line and still find a way to get it done that’s impressive.”
Wyrick said his team is eager to face the Firebirds after suffering a tough loss to them a year ago.
“We have been put in a lot of situations this year that we have really wanted,” he said. “The Sidney game at their place to win the league, being able to play Tipp to seal it because there is a history there. Now we get another opportunity that’s incredible. We don’t need any extra material to get excited for this one. All those guys were on that team last year. We are excited to get after it.
“We can’t be satisfied with any of this. We can’t be satisfied with winning the league or winning a tournament game. This team has the ability to accomplish a lot more than that so that needs to be our focus.”
Reach Darrell Wacker at(937) 684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.