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Tornado lose barn burner at USC

Game over and the emotions are clear for Butler's Braylon Littlejohn as the Golden Tornado lost to Upper St. Clair in their WPIAL 6A playoff game at Upper St. Clair High School on Friday night. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 2/23/2024
Lead changes hands 10 times in 78-71 playoff loss

UPPER ST. CLAIR — Seven players in double figures, 10 ties, 10 lead changes.

Friday night’s epic WPIAL 6A boys basketball quarterfinal between Butler and Upper St. Clair on the latter’s home floor needed a difference-maker.

Enter Christian Ito.

Butler's Braylon Littlejohn drives to the hoop against Upper St. Clair late in the third quarter of their WPIAL 6A playoff game. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 2/23/2024

USC’s senior guard scored 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter as the Panthers (18-5) outscored the Golden Tornado (16-7) 21-13 in the final eight minutes to come away with a 78-71 victory.

The Panthers won their fifth straight game and ninth in their last 10. Butler lost for the fourth time in five games.

Butler's Braylon Littlejohn saves this ball from going out of bounds against Upper St.Clair on Friday night. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 2/23/2024

“They made a few more plays than we did down the stretch,” Butler coach Matt Clement said. “This was a great high school basketball game. Both teams played well.

“I have so much respect for (USC coach) Danny Holzer and his program. We’ve had some thrilling games with them. I just wish we could play them in the finals sometime instead of in the first round.”

Butler's Braylon Litttlejohn contorts his body in sinking a basket against Upper St Clair. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 2/23/2024

Butler’s last lead was at 62-59 with just under six minutes remaining. Ito drilled a game-tying trey, then sank a layup off a steal for a 64-62 Panther lead with 5:24 remaining. Though neither team ever managed a double-digit lead, USC did not surrender that lead.

Ito made sure of that.

“We had a couple of guys in foul trouble,” Holzer said. “Christian loves this game so much. He stepped up and he took things over for us in the fourth quarter.

“I knew we were in for this type of game. These games always play out back-and-forth like this when we play Butler. They have a great program and it’s very hard to hold them down.”

Butler's Andrew Gettinger (35) goes up for a shot over Upper St. Clair big man Kaamil Jackson late in the Golden Tornado’s WPIAL 6A playoff win at Upper St.Clair High School. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 2/23/2024

When Ito sank a short jumper with 1:57 remaining, giving his team a 74-67 lead, it marked the first time all night either team led by more than six points.

Butler’s biggest lead was six points at 56-50 in the third quarter. Donovan Carney scored 18 points in the first half, none in the second. He did have four assists.

“He (Carney) really hurt us early,” Holzer said. “We came out farther in the second half, widened the gaps, forced him to pass the ball.”

Butler players console each other after their 78-71 WPIAL 6A playoff loss at Upper St. Clair High School on Friday night. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 2/23/2024

Littlejohn scored 21 of his game-high 27 points in the second half. He did not register a field goal in the game’s first 13 minutes, but the score was tied at 28 when he finally broke through.

“Everybody played hard,” Clement said. “We’ve been on the winning side of games like this in the playoffs and that makes them more special. But I’m proud of our team, and the way we fought.”

Butler coach Matt Clement takes a seat late in the game with only seconds left as the Golden Tornado loses at Upper St. Clair in the WPIAL 6A playoffs. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle

Leading 35-30 at the half, the Tornado fell behind in the third quarter as USC began the period with a13-2 run. Butler responded with a 13-3 run of its own to go up by five late in the quarter.

“We responded from that run,” Clement said. “When we had the lead early in the fourth ... It was important we hold on to it at that point. Once we fell behind, they fed off their momentum.”

Butler's Tayt Lucas jukes USC defernder Kaamil Jackson late in their WPIAL 6A playoff game Friday night at Upper St. Clair High School. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 2/23/2024

Littlejohn had 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals in his final high school game. Andrew Gettinger, a sophomore, came off the bench to score a season--high 13 points, including three treys. He scored 10 of those points in the second half.

“We noticed on film their big guy (6-foot-9 Tyler Robbins) doesn’t like to come out too far on defense and we felt we could use that to our advantage,” Clement said. “He (Gettinger) played well. Hopefully, this will add to his confidence going into next year.”

Robbins led the Panthers with 20 points, adding four rebounds. Ito had his 19 points, Kaamil Jackson 12 points and nine rebounds, Julian Dahlem 12 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Dahlem fouled out with 1:53 to play.

Littlejohn, Ayden Davis, Andrew Lucas, Kaden Blatt, Ian Lenhart and Coleton Welter wrapped up their Butler basketball careers with the loss.

BUTLER 71

Donovan Carney 8-14 0-0 18, Ayden Davis 1-2 0-1 2, Andrew Lucas 1-2 0-0 2, Braylon Littlejohn 10-17 5-10 27, Tayt Lucas 2-4 0-0n 5, Stainton Forbes 1-4 0-2 2, Coleton Welter 1-1 0-0 2, Andrew Gettinger 5-9 0-1 13. Totals: 29-53 5-12 71.

UPPER ST. CLAIR 78

Brett Meinert 2-4 3-4 9, Julian Dahlem 4-9 1-2 12, Kaamil Jackson 5-7 0-0 12, Christian Ito -13 0-0 19, Tyler Robbins 8-10 4-4 20, Peja Strobl 2-6 0-0 4, Jake Foster 0-3 2-2 2. Totals: 30-52 10-13 78.

Butler 16 19 23 13 — 71

USC 15 15 27 21 — 78

3-point goals: Butler 8 (Carney 2, Littlejohn 2, Lucas, Gettinger 3), USC 8 (Meinert 2, Dahlem 3, Jackson 2, Ito)

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