VANDALIA – After a tense first half, it looked as if Northmont was ready to put Butler away midway through the third period. A 6-0 run had lifted the Thunderbolts to a 29-21 lead and the Aviators appeared to be reeling.
Basketball can turn on a dime, however, and turnovers on three of Northmont’s next five possessions and a 7-0 run by the Aviators cut the lead to one heading into the final period. Butler hit a three-pointer with 1:20 remaining to retake the lead and never surrendered it as they held on to beat Northmont 40-39.
“We had a stretch in the third quarter where we got up 29-21 and then I thought we went away from the things that got us that lead,” said Northmont head coach Collin Abels. “They (Butler) are a team that has been fighting hard and in close games all year and things went their way down the stretch.”
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 to take their first lead at 14-12, but Taylor tied the game moments later. Jabari Perkins gave the Thunderbolts a 23-21 lead at intermission as he hit a three-pointer just ahead of the buzzer.
Northmont appeared to take control in the third period but they couldn’t hold the lead which set up a tense final quarter.
“We were too content to throw it around the perimeter, and we talked about that during pregame,” said Abels. “The ball has to go to the middle of the zone defense, and it didn’t go there often enough. We have some guys who can shoot from the perimeter, and I don’t know what it is about this place, but teams tend to struggle shooting here.”
Jason Biggs hit a pair of free throws that gave Northmont a 33-30 lead early in the fourth period, but Butler responded with five straight points to take a 35-33 lead with 6:37 left.
Baskets by Taylor and Perkins gave Northmont a 38-35 advantage, but Butler hit two free throws to cut the lead to one at 38-37.
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.
A steal by Butler set up a three-pointer with 1:20 left, and another steal gave the ball back to the Aviators with 57 seconds remaining.
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.
“Two things stood out to me – our inability to create turnovers, which I thought we would be able to do, and that stretch in the third quarter when we are up eight and give them the opportunity to come back and close it,” said Abels. “Instead of being up 10 or 12 heading into the fourth quarter we were up one, and then its anybody’s ballgame.”
Northmont (8-7 overall, 3-2 GWOC Central) will host Piqua on Tuesday and Fairmont on Friday.
Reach Darrell Wacker at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.