By DAVE HANNEMAN
Cavon Butler takes up a lot of space in the paint.
And if he keeps playing like he did against Findlay on Tuesday, he’ll be taking up a lot more space in the Toledo Whitmer basketball write-ups, too.
Butler was not in the starting lineup for Tuesday’s Three Rivers Athletic Conference contest. But the 6-foot-4, 285-pound senior scored all 14 of his points in the second half in rallying the No. 8-ranked Panthers to a 65-57 win over the Trojans.
“He changed the game for them,” said Findlay High coach Jim Rucki.
“He was a tough matchup for us. He’s big and he’s strong and he finished around the basket. When we went zone, there were a couple of times where we missed assignments and weren’t where we should have been. He was the beneficiary of that.”
Whitmer, which climbed as high as No. 3 in the Division I state rankings by winning its first 10 games, benefited as well. The Panthers rebounded from their only loss to improve to 11-1 overall, 7-1 in the TRAC and remain tied with Lima Senior atop the standings.
Findlay suffered its second straight loss and fell to 9-5, 4-4 in the TRAC.
Findlay had taken Whitmer to the wire in an earlier league matchup in Toledo and was battling the Panthers tooth and nail again Tuesday. The Trojans trailed 16-14 after the first period, but senior guards Ryan Roth and R.J. Nunn bombed in two 3-pointers each during a strong second-quarter run that earned Findlay a 30-25 lead at the half.
Findlay would expand that lead to nine points (34-25) when Chris Strzempka scored of an assist from A.J. Adams and Isaiah Moore drove to the basket and scored.
Then, the bottom fell out.
Findlay turned the ball on six straight possessions and Whitmer was more than happy to cash in, flipping the script with a 12-0 run. Senior guard Trey Syroka had a trey and a deuce during the surge and Butler scored six points in a period that saw Whitmer turn a 34-25 deficit into a 43-38 lead.
“We preached defense to start the third quarter,” said Toledo Whitmer coach Ryan Brown.
“We held them to four points for a long time (5 minutes and 52 seconds to be exact) and had four steals during that stretch. Honestly, that flipped the game around.”
“We did some things that you just cannot do against a team like that,” Rucki said. “We had some really bad defensive breakdowns where we did not communicate well enough. Sometimes you can get away with it; against a good team, that’s tough to do,”
Findlay did tie the game 43-43 by the end of the period when Nunn knocked down one of his five 3-pointers and Adams slashed to the hoop and scored.
But Whitmer outscored the Trojans 12-2 in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter and nursed a 7-to-8-point lead the rest of the way.
Butler had six of Whitmer’s 12 points during the run that put the Panthers on top to stay.
“He’s definitely a presence inside,” Brown said of Butler, an all-Ohio defensive lineman who passed up offers from Ohio State and Alabama to accept a football scholarship from Kentucky. “He’s getting in better shape all the time. And the better shape he’s in the better we’re going to be, because down the stretch he’s going to be playing a lot more for us.”
In the first half, Butler usually rotated into the line up replacing either Edward Colbert, a 6-5 senior wing, or Leon Hughes, a 6-4 senior forward. In the second half, Brown went with all three of his bigs, which in addition to 6-2 senior guard Areon Evans gave the Panthers excellent length on the perimeter and the ability to extend their defensive pressure.
After making 5 of 11 3-pointers and 12 of 26 shots overall in the first half, Findlay made just 2 of 10 threes and 9 of 23 total shots in the third and fourth quarters.
While Butler was a physical force in the second half, Brown was counting on the big senior for more than his muscle.
“Cavon’s a senior. He’s a Division I football commit and he brings that presence and that trust,” Brown said.
“Our fifth starter right now is either my son, Zach, who’s a sophomore or Maurice Purley, who’s a freshman. Nothing against either one of those two; both have been doing a good job for us.
“But that senior experience is tough to beat. We have veteran players that have played a lot of basketball games. We’re 11-1 but we’ve had a lot of close games where we’ve had to make a play at the end to win the game.
“Like tonight, we’ve been able to keep patient, take our time, get stops, and score.”
Colbert led Whitmer with 23 points, while Evans added 12.
Nunn’s five 3-pointers were part of a 28-point night for the senior guard. Roth added 12 points.
Adams (9 points, 7 rebounds) and Strzempka (6 points, 8 rebounds) — Findlay’s sophomore inside players — combined for 15 points and 15 rebounds for the Trojans, who travel to Toledo Central Catholic on Friday for another TRAC matchup.
In Tuesday’s preliminary games, Keith Chappell scored 17 points, Dylan Ankney 13 and Carson Gertz 11 as Findlay’s junior varsity (10-4) beat Whitmer’s reserves 51-35. Findlay’s freshmen improved to 12-2 with a 41-27 victory in their game.
TOLEDO WHITMER (11-1, 7-1 TRAC)
Evans 4-10 2-2 12, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Colbert 8-15 6-8 23, Hughs 2-7 2-2 6, Syroka 3-9 0-0 7, Butler 6-8 2-2 14, Purley 0-0 0-0 0, Merrill 1-1 0-0 3. TOTALS: 24-49 12-14–65.
FINDLAY (9-5, 4-4 TRAC)
Moore 1-2 0-0 2, R. Roth 4-11 2-2 12, Nunn 10-21 3-3 28, Adams 4-9 1-2 9, Strzempka 2-3 2-2 6, C. Stillings 0-2 0-0 0, M. Roth 0-1 0-0 2, Howard 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 21-49 8-9–57.
Toledo Whitmer 16 9 18 22 — 67
Findlay 14 16 13 14 — 57
3-Point GOALS: Toledo Whitmer 5-19 (Evans 2-7, Merrill 1-1, Colbert 1-5, Hughes 0-1, Syroka 1-5); Findlay 7-21 (C. Stillings 0-1, R. Roth 2-7, Nunn 5-11, Adams 0-1, Strzempka 0-1).
REBOUNDs: Toledo Whitmer 27 (Hughes 8, Colbert 6); Findlay 26 (Strzempka 8, Adams 7).
TURNOVERS: Toledo Whitmer 8, Findlay 13.
JUNIOR VARSITY: Findlay, 51-35.
FRESHMEN: Findlay, 41-27.
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