Butler takes a big step

Butler and Harlem aren't supposed to be playing a girls basketball game this meaningful this late in the season.

They're probably not supposed to play one this good.

"People look at our past," Butler senior Ebonie Harris said, "and think we aren't any good."

Both teams took a step toward earning respect Tuesday with a contest that had the intensity of a postseason game.

Butler -- a school that has made one state playoff trip this decade -- turned back Harlem, 52-48, in overtime. The game was a matchup of teams that entered with 6-0 Region 3-AAAA records.

Butler (10-2, 7-0), which let a double-digit lead dissolve in the third quarter, scored the first 12 points of the fourth quarter. Butler then allowed Harlem to force overtime by losing a six-point lead in the final two minutes of regulation.

Butler went ahead for good with 2:25 left in overtime on Harris' 17-footer.

"So many times we could have crumbled," Butler coach Keisha Stewart said.

Butler sophomore point guard Ashley Watts scored a team-high 18 points and handled the ball with command that belied her youth. Meka Carter (16) and Harris (10) also scored in double figures.

"Ever since I've been here we've been trying to build a program," said Stewart, in her fourth season. "We're not at the top yet, but we took a big step.

"This program still has a ways to go."

Sophomore Ebony Wells scored 24 points for Harlem (10-1, 6-1), which entered the game having defeated all but one of its opponents by at least 20 points. Nicole Wells' layup with 13 seconds remaining forced overtime.

Harlem -- which endured a three-year stretch earlier this decade that included no region wins -- took the lead on the first possession of overtime on Ebony Wells bucket. Harlem wouldn't score again until 1.3 seconds remained.

Butler shot 12 free throws in overtime (converting six) and was never threatened after Harlem point guard Chancellor Martin (10 points) fouled out with 1:55 left.

Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or matt.middleton@augustachronicle.com.

More