PITTSBURGH — Trailing by 11 early in the third quarter at Alumni Hall and being throttled by Central Catholic's Ben Sarson, Butler was in trouble.
But not for long.
The Golden Tornado closed within two by the end of the third quarter on a three-point play by Mason Montag with 2.2 seconds left in the period. Butler (9-4, 4-0) then outscored the Vikings 23-9 in the final eight minutes for a 79-67 Section 1-6A boys basketball victory on the road.
“Now this was a big win for this team,” Butler coach Matt Clement said. “I loved the grit we showed tonight.”
The Tornado had sunk only one trey in the first half and trailed by 11 in the final minute of the second quarter before Mattix Clement drained a trey just before halftime.
“Mattix made a big play at the end of the second quarter, Mason at the end of the third,” Coach Clement said. “Those were momentum plays.”
Butler took it to the Vikings (7-5, 1-3) in the final period.
A Devin Carney jumper with 5:43 left gave Butler a 62-60 lead — its first lead since midway through the second quarter — and Sarson knotted the game with a lay-up with 4:54 to play. That was the sixth and final tie of the night.
Butler went on a 12-3 run to grab a 74-65 lead with 1:23 remaining to put away the game. Morton had a pair of lay-ups, Montag a pair as well and Charlie Kreinbucher added a layup during the spurt. All three of those lay-ups came off Morton assists.
A pair of Morton free throws capped the run.
“I didn't do a good job of reading the defense in the first half,” Morton said. “They were coming out on our shooters and the lane was available to me. I was settling for pull-up jumpers too much.
“Coach told me at halftime to be more aggressive and drive to the basket if it was there.”
It was there.
Morton scored eight points in the first half. He scored 23 in the second half, 15 in the fourth quarter.
“We weren't getting the help defense on him as much in the second half,” Central coach Brian Urso said. “If you get caught in one-on-one coverage with Ethan going to the basket, you're in for 'and 1's' all night.
“What prompted Butler's comeback? They started making shots. They started feeling comfortable.”
When the 6-foot-5 senior center Sarson sank a trey to begin the third quarter, he had 26 points in the game's first 17 minutes. And the Vikings had a 41-30 lead.
Sarson finished with a career-high 42 points and 15 rebounds. He averages 16 points per game.
“Ben played his guts out. He had a fantastic game,” Urso said. “He was geared up for this one. He told me this morning he couldn't wait for tonight.”
Clement was unaware Sarson had that productive a night.
“I knew he had a big game, but 42?” he exclaimed. “I wish I could say our strategy was to let him get his and shut down everything else. But that wasn't our strategy.
“We did a poor job chasing him in the paint and he really attacked the glass.”
Morton led Butler with 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. He has 1,911 career points.
Carney had 15 points and three steals, Montag 11 points and seven rebounds, Raine Gratzmiller eight points and a pair of steals before fouling out late in the game.
“Without Raine and Mason tonight ... this game could have gotten pretty ugly,” Morton admitted. “This was a true team win.”
Coach Clement agreed.
“We got quality minutes from everybody we put out there,” he said. “All of these guys worked their butts off, especially when we got down.”
Butler has a chance to go unbeaten through the first half of section play. The Tornado close the opening half by hosting Seneca Valley Tuesday night.
“Trust the process,” Morton said. “That's what got us through tonight.”
Raine Gratzmiller 2-3 2-4 8, Devin Carney 7-13 0-0 15, Mattix Clement 2-4 2-2 7, Charlie Kreinbucher 2-3 0-1 4, Mason Montag 5-8 1-2 11, Ethan Morton 10-16 10-13 31, Madden Clement 1-3 0-0 3, David Leslie 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 29-51 15-21 79.
CENTRAL CENTRAL 67
Collin O'Toole 1-6 0-0 2, Anderson Cynkar 2-4 1-2 5, Ben Sarson 14-19 10-11 42, Jack Cherkes 1-8 0-1 3, Dante DePante 2-11 0-0 4, Brian Dzuban 2-3 0-0 5, Sam McCarthy 2-5 0-0 6, Noah Jackson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 24-57 11-17 67.
Butler 17 13 26 23 — 79
Central Catholic16 22 20 9 — 67
3-point goals: Gratzmiller 2, Carney, Mat.Clement, Morton, Mad.Clement; Sarson 4, Cherkes, Dzuban, McCarthy 2
JV: Central Catholic, 61-38 (B: David Leslie 12, CJ Singleton 9; CC: Philmon Khoahash 23, Carter Anthony 14)