On the first night of the high school basketball postseason, D.J. Little and his Iroquois High School squad provided one of its first magical moments.
His team down 14 early in the fourth quarter, Little put on a show and carried the host Raiders to a 95-85 victory over Butler on Monday night in the first round of the 22nd District Tournament.
Little, a senior guard, scored 26 of his career-high 37 points during the fourth quarter and overtime as Iroquois kept its season alive.
“(Coach Jeff Morrow) just told me to keep attacking, and I was getting the call,” said Little, who finished 25 of 31 from the free-throw line. “I’ve been working on my free throws, and they were going in.”
Iroquois (20-7) — No. 14 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings — advanced to face No. 12 Doss in Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. district semifinal.
“It would have been unfortunate for this team not to advance further and be done after one because they’ve played hard all year,” Morrow said. “It gets no easier Wednesday against the best team in the district, but I’m happy for them because they deserved it.”
Jalen Martin scored 19 points and Troy Smith added 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Raiders.
Will Johnson had 31 points and six rebounds to lead Butler (10-15), which saw its lead slip away thanks in part to two technical fouls called on players in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter.
“We’ve been battling that emotional factor,” Bears coach Rick Gibson said. “When you’re in an adverse situation, how do you react? There were a couple of questionable calls … but you can’t respond to the refs. That’s my job and the captains’ jobs. Those technicals were huge.”
Butler took its biggest lead, 53-37, late in the third quarter and still led 65-51 after a Jalen Bradley free throw with 5:54 left in the fourth.
But Little took over from there, repeatedly taking the ball to the basket and drawing fouls.
“Until they figured out a way to stop him, keep on going,” Morrow said. “Not only did he get to the rim, but he made his free throws when he got fouled. Until they did something to stop him, we were going to ride that horse.”
Little hit four straight free throws after the second Butler technical to pull Iroquois within 70-68 with 2:16 remaining. His 3-pointer from the right wing gave the Raiders a 74-73 lead with 59 seconds left.
Martin hit 1 of 2 free throws with 7.9 seconds left to give the Raiders a 75-73 edge, but Jeremiah Bell scored and was fouled to tie the score with 3.7 seconds remaining. Bell missed the free throw, leading to overtime.
The Raiders never trailed in the extra period, taking an 86-79 lead on Pierre Malitshanga’s layup with 1:14 left. Iroquois sank 14 of 18 free throws in the final period and 39 of 57 for the game.
Butler finished 27 of 40 from the free-throw line.
Morrow credited his team for hanging tough despite the large deficit.
“A lot of people watching this game probably thought, ‘Well, this one’s over,’ ” he said. “But they have an uncanny ability to act like they don’t know what’s going on around them, and they find ways to do what they did tonight.”
Added Little: “We just refused to lose. We had to come back and be tough. That’s what we did.”