Christian Ito, Upper St. Clair come to life in 4th quarter to beat Butler

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Friday, February 23, 2024 | 10:45 PM


For three quarters of their WPIAL Class 6A boys quarterfinal, No. 3 Upper St. Clair and No. 6 Butler went back and forth with both teams unable to build a lead of more than two possessions.

Things changed in the fourth quarter, though, as the Panthers turned to their secret weapon.

Limited to four points through three quarters, senior Christian Ito started hitting every shot he took as Upper St. Clair finally pulled away and defeated Butler, 78-71.

“He’s one of two seniors on the whole team and he just loves this game,” Upper St. Clair coach Danny Holzer said. “I’m so proud of him because he had a rough first half and we had to sit him a little bit to calm him down, but when we got in foul trouble, we told him to do his thing and he sure did.”

How good was Ito in the fourth? He single-handedly outscored the Golden Tornado 15-13 in the final eight minutes.

“First half was terrible for me,” Ito said. “They were face-guarding me and I couldn’t get anything. I said I was going to keep moving without the ball and see if I could get open, and that’s what happened in the second half.”

The game was close throughout with Butler leading by one point after the first and third quarters and the visiting Golden Tornado leading 35-30 at the half thanks to sophomore Donovan Carney, who scored 18 points before halftime.

“We made some adjustments at halftime on him,” Holzer said. “Anytime he was on a ball screen or a handoff, we were trapping it to get it out of his hands. We wanted him to pass the ball as much as possible. We wanted to take chances with their other guys hitting shots down the stretch.”

Those adjustment worked as Carney was held scoreless the rest of the game.

However, the Butler offense kept moving thanks to some big shots off the bench by sophomore Andrew Gettinger and the outstanding play of senior Braylon Littlejohn, playing his final basketball game before going to Miami (Ohio) to play football in the fall.

“He was tremendous,” Holzer said. “We had no answers for him.”

Littlejohn ended up with a game-high 27 points, 19 of them in the second half.

In the third quarter, Upper St. Clair started strong with an 11-2 run before Butler answered with an 8-0 run of its own.

The biggest lead for either team through three quarters was six points.

Until Ito took over in the fourth, the Panthers offense centered on their center, 6-foot-9 junior Tyler Robbins.

He led the Panthers with 20 points — most of them close-range shots, including a couple of rim-rattling dunks.

“Our kids did such a good job recognizing the double teams on him,” Holzer said. “Tyler was really good with it too. He has got so much better as the year progressed of knowing when to get it out (on the perimeter) and when not to. I thought we did a great job in that aspect of our offense.”

Despite being in foul trouble throughout, juniors Julian Dahlem and Kaamil Jackson each scored 12 points for USC.

Butler, which began the season 10-1, ends the campaign with a 16-7 record.

Upper St. Clair improves to 18-5 and has won five straight and eight of its last nine games.

The Panthers move on to the 6A semifinals Tuesday to play No. 2 Central Catholic (15-8) in a rematch of a final four contest a year ago won by the Vikings, 65-41.

“We got great chemistry. We’re like a family,” Ito said. “We try to get everyone involved. We had four players in double digits. We have five, six, seven people that can score. We’ll be ready for whoever.”

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