Butler's late buckets lift #1 past #2

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.  A pair of layups in the final 25 seconds from Austin Butler enabled No. 1 Whitman to rally past second-ranked Marietta (Ohio) College, 72-71, Thursday night at the Daytona Beach Shootout.

Sitting in the top spot in the Hero Sports rankings, and No. 2 in the D3hoops.com poll, Whitman (9-0) held a lead over the Pioneers (8-3) -- second in the Hero rankings and fourth in the D3hoops poll -- for more than 26 minutes and midway through the second half looked as if a victory might come by a double-digit margin.

The Blues came out of the halftime break ahead 37-33 but watched Marietta stage a quick 6-0 run to wrest the lead away, at 39-37, in the early moments of the second half.

For the second time in the game, however, Whitman answered a sudden deficit with a sudden run of its own, this time piecing together a 12-0 run to take command of the game, 49-39, with 15 minutes to play.

Midway through the first half the Blues had fallen behind by five, 23-18, only to reel off a 10-0 run to take back the lead, one that would carry into the intermission.

The second-half run looked as if it might be the determining segment of a game between two nationally-ranked heavyweights. But as with the first-half Whitman run the Pioneers would show why they, too, are so highly ranked, pulling back even with The Blues at 60-60.

JoJo Wiggins dropped in one of his two 3-pointers during the game on the next possession to lift Whitman back in front for a lead it would hold onto for the next four minutes.

Again, though, Marietta came back to steal away the lead -- this time literally, scoring back-to-back buckets off steals to inch in front on a trey and layup -- at 71-68 with 1:03 to play.

Whitman worked the perimeter with its next possession but Marietta stepped out hard to negate any long-range attempts. Finally, Butler got a step on his defender at the top of the arc and drove down the right side of the lane for a layup that would draw The Blues to within a point with 34 seconds on the clock.

Marietta was able to beat the pressure to complete an inbounds pass but as Kyle Dixon was trying to break free toward mid-court Butler picked his pocket to create a turnover after which he dropped in an uncontested layup to send Whitman back in front.

Marietta had a chance with six seconds remaining but a miss and a defensive rebound from Whitman stifled the final Pioneer upset bid.

Butler finished the night with 14 points, as did teammate Joey Hewitt who registered a double-double after coming down with a team-best 10 rebounds. Two other starters, Wiggins and Tim Howell, each scored 12 points to give Whitman four starters hitting double-figures on the night.

Marietta was led by Kyle Dixon's 20 points and 14 rebounds in the loss. Pioneer teammates A.J. Edwards (19 points) and Keith Richardson (16) were the other players in their three-headed attack, but the rest of the roster accounted for only 16 points.

Thursday's victory marks the second straight season in which Whitman has begun the season with a 9-0 mark.

The Blues will put that season-opening streak on the line in Walla Walla just before the end of the year when they will take on Crown (Minn.) College and Buena Vista (Iowa) University at Sherwood Athletic Center for the Dec. 30-31 Comfort Inn Classic.