HUBER HEIGHTS — On a night where Butler’s offense sputtered for most of the game, perhaps the ending was fitting.
After trailing Wayne by as many as 13 points in the first half and trailing by six with 55 seconds left, the Aviators found themselves staring at a one point deficit with 8 seconds to play. Michael Kreill, Butler’s leading scorer, drove to the basket from the right side but missed the layup.
This time, though, the Aviators crashed the glass and Cooper Justice came up with the offensive rebound and drew a foul just before the buzzer.
Two free throws later, and 0.4 seconds later, the Aviators found themselves with a 46-45 win that sent Wayne (1-2) reeling to their locker room. It was the first Butler (3-0) win over the Warriors since 2007.
Kreill led the Aviators with 16 points while Bryant Johnson kicked in 10 and Braedon Norman had 9. Rashad McKee led the Warriors with 16 points, Tallice Landers had 9 and Ronnie Hampton scored 8.
Nothing came easy, though.
The Warriors got off to as good of a start as they could hope for. Rashad McKee opened the scoring with a layup and a three pointer while Butler missed three layups in the opening minutes. Another three by Tallice Landers and Cam Fancher pushed Wayne’s lead to 13-0.
“Obviously we got off to a slow start, but I told the guys at half that if we erase the 10-0 start, we actually won the half by three,” said Butler head coach DJ Wyrick. “I didn’t feel like we played our best but we were in a good spot. We had played about as bad as we could play and only down seven.”
Butler finally scored its first basket with 2:34 to play in the first period and closed on a mini run to get within 15-6 to end the first quarter.
Landers scored early for Wayne and pushed the lead back to 11, but back to back hoops by Butler’s Bryant Johnson got the Aviators within 7 at 17-10. Landers and Bobby Cole answered with a pair of three-pointers to push the lead back to 11, but Butler scored the last six points of the half to limp to the locker room trailing by just 7 at 23-16.
“We were pretty active in our zone, and when we switched to zone we still had man-to-man intensity and were flying around,” said Wyrick. “Constantly changing defenses helped us a lot. They were trying to shrink the game and limit possessions because they could sense us coming back.”
The third quarter looked to be much of the same with Ronnie Hampton, Landers, and McKee keeping the Aviators from closing the gap. But, trailing 30-20, the Aviators went on a 12-0 lead over the final three minutes of the period to take their first lead at 32-32 with 1.8 seconds left.
Butler opened the fourth quarter on a 5-2 run on a three-point play and a basket by Kreill to take their largest lead at 37-32 with 6:14 to play.
Wayne countered with a 7-0 run of their own to retake the lead on a McKee three-pointer and Butler was forced to call time with 3:14 to play. Four straight points by Hampton gave the Warriors a 45-39 lead with 55 seconds to play and it appeared the Aviator rally would fall short.
Wayne made a crucial mistake with 28 seconds left by fouling a three point shooter whose shot had no chance to go in. Braedon Norman hit 2-of-3 shots to make the score 45-41. Butler started fouling, and the Warriors missed two straight front ends of a one-and-one to leave the door open.
Kreill hit a three pointer with 13.1 seconds left to make the score 45-44. Another missed free throw then set up the final sequence.
“We have a veteran team and these guys were in this situation a ton last year,” said Wyrick. “The thing I was most proud of is that we continued to compete. Its easy for a team to be down six with a minute left and just quit. We kept our urgency, we could sense we were still in it. They just made plays when we needed them to make them.”
Reach Darrell Wacker at (937) 684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.