Ethan Morton scores 33, Butler defeats North Allegheny in section opener

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Friday, December 21, 2018 | 10:33 PM


Butler’s Ethan Morton made a 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer, then drew back an imaginary bow and launched an arrow at the student section.

It was a lighthearted celebration that also felt a little like a warning shot.

After a quiet start Friday night, Morton scored 26 of his game-high 33 points in the second half as host Butler defeated North Allegheny, 72-65, in the teams’ Section 1-6A opener.

With NA’s defense focused on Morton, the star junior didn’t attempt a single shot in the first quarter.

Confronted at times by two or three defenders, the 6-foot-6 point guard showed his patience and passed the ball. But once his teammates started making 3s — including five by sophomore Mattix Clement — that stretched NA’s defense just enough for Morton to take over.

His first basket was a dunk about 3 minutes into the second quarter.

“He makes that whole team better,” North Allegheny coach Keith Nofts said. “If you take him out of the lineup, they’re a very average team. With him in the lineup, they can beat anybody.”

Morton went 8 for 9 shooting in the final three quarters with three 3-pointers, and converted 14 of 16 attempts from the foul line in another dominant performance for the major college recruit. Twice he scored driving layups in the fourth quarter, drew a foul and added the free throw.

NA couldn’t double Morton and defend the 3-point line at the same time.

“When Ethan started busting through, (the defense’s thought) was, do I stay or do I go?” Butler coach Matt Clement said. “That’s what we’re trying to create here. You have to make your decision. I feel like I have four guys who can really shoot. He’s going to put somebody in a good spot for a good shot.”

Mattix Clement had 15 points and junior Mason Montag added 10 for No. 2 Butler (6-1, 1-0), which shot 44 percent (11 of 25) from the arc. Clement made 5 of 12 from 3-point range and Montag went 2 for 3.

Combined, Butler’s 3-point shooters made only 1 of 7 attempts in the first quarter and trailed 13-7, but they sank 4 of 5 during a 21-point second-quarter surge. That included Morton’s 3 at the buzzer.

Butler won the quarter 21-11 and led 28-24 at half.

“Mattix started making shots, Mason hit a couple of huge 3s tonight, I know Devin (Carney) hit a 3,” Morton said. “Those 3s just open the floor for me. That’s a credit to those guys and how much they help me.”

It was a bounce back night for Butler, which shot poorly from the perimeter in Tuesday’s 27-point loss at Mt. Lebanon. Butler also handled NA’s pressure better than it had Lebo’s.

Morton finished with six rebounds and seven assists.

“We tried getting the ball out of his hands, but it’s hard to do,” Nofts said. “He just totally controls the game.”

Mike Egnaczyk scored a team-high 17 points for North Allegheny (3-3, 0-1). Nico Erimias had 14 points and Khalil Dinkins added 10.

Butler’s lead peaked at 14 points with 5 minutes left in the fourth, before NA rallied late. A jumper by Egnaczyk cut the deficit to 66-61 with 1:45 left.

But foul shooting doomed NA’s chances. Butler shot 85 percent (17 for 20) from the foul line. North Allegheny made only 6 of 13.

Morton alone made 9 of 10 in the final quarter.

“He’s a great player — not a good player — he’s a great player,” Nofts said. “I was in college (coaching for) 19 years, I think he can play anywhere.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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