By Josh Brown
DAYTON — Even when Lockland turned Troy Christian’s 18-point lead into a five-point one with 3:30 left to play, the Eagles weren’t shaken at all.
“Our kids never got worried. They stayed focused on the task at hand,” Troy Christian boys basketball coach Ray Zawadzki said. “Our kids have been here before, and we wanted them loose and relaxed.”
And the Eagles (24-2) stayed that way all the way to the end, taking the Panthers’ best shot and finishing strong to win the second straight Division IV district championship with a 73-63 victory over Lockland Thursday night at UD Arena.
And no one saw more pressure head their way — or kept their cool better — than Troy Christian’s Grant Zawadzki.
“Staying calm is part of my preparation,” the junior said. “I just tried not to put too much into the big arena, to make things bigger than they were, and just go out and play my game. Before the game, the coaches told me to treat it like just another day in the gym.”
And it began like most days in the gym for the Eagles this season, with Zawadzki pouring in 12 points in the first quarter to give the Eagles a 21-9 lead. He stayed hot in the second quarter, too, finishing the first half with 20 points — but the Panthers got hot from outside, too, hitting three 3s to stay within striking distance, 35-26 at the break.
Lockland adjusted at halftime, though, and started double-and triple-teaming Zawadzki, holding him to only seven second-half points.
Which didn’t bother Zawadzki or the Eagles at all.
“It’s hard to score when you’ve got two or three guys guarding you – but that’s fine with me. I’ve got teammates that are more than capable,” he said. “I’ll gladly sacrifice my points for the team win.”
And while all of the Eagles made critical plays at clutch times, arguably no one stepped up bigger than Spencer Thomas and Logan George.
George finished with 17 points and seven rebounds and Thomas added 13 points, seven rebounds and a whopping six assists. The Eagles held a 32-22 rebounding edge in the game due in large part to their efforts, and with Zawadzki limited to a decoy/coach-on-the-floor role in the second half thanks to the Panthers limiting his touches, Thomas ran the Troy Christian offense – and ran it well. Eight of Thomas’ points and four of his assists came after halftime.
“Logan was a man inside tonight,” Ray Zawadzki said. “Lockland was really physical, and he didn’t back down.
“We knew Lockland had a lot of different defenses to run at us tonight, ones the kids hadn’t seen all year. But our two senior guards, Spencer and Holden (Varvel), handled it well, particularly in the second half when they started double-teaming Grant. It forced them to make plays – and they did.”
Troy Christian led by as many as 18 at 51-33 in the third quarter – and a two-handed slam by Dusty Poteet that made the score 53-36 seemed to have put all of the momentum on Troy Christian’s side — but Lockland closed to within 11 at 55-44 going into the fourth.
And Lockland kept the heat on in the fourth, too, canning three more 3s – for a total of nine in the game – and a steal-and-layup by Anthony Boyd cut the Eagles’ lead to 63-58 with 3:30 to play.
But Varvel (six points) hit a pair of free throws and Grant Zawadzki drew a charge on the other end with two minutes to play, and the Eagles ate up the clock until the Panthers were forced to foul with less than a minute left. Troy Christian hit 8 of 10 free throws in the fourth to seal the win.
Grant Zawadzki finished with a game-high 27 points and two turnovers. Tevin Riddle led Lockland with 23 points and Eric Phillips hit four 3s and added 20.
“Coach does a great job of preparing us,” Grant Zawadzki said. “We know that if we execute, things will come out well. We just try to listen to the coaches.”
“We had 14 turnovers tonight. The coaches circled the number 15 before the game,” Ray Zawadzki said. “We thought that if we turned it over less than 15 times, we’d win.”
Now Troy Christian will face Tri-Village in a rematch of last year’s regional semifinal Tuesday at Trent Arena. The Eagles defeated the then-unbeaten and top-ranked Patriots in overtime in the regional semifinal on the same floor last year on their way to their first-ever regional title and state semifinal berth.
“Obviously, we’re going to be the underdog, and that’s OK,” Ray Zawadzki said. “We’re going to be in a tough spot, but anything can happen in 32 minutes of basketball.”
After all, the Eagles have been there before.
Lockland – 63
Cheikh Athie 3-0-6, Jaquan Short 8-0-20, Eric Phillips 3-1-9, Anthony Boyd 2-0-5, Tevin Riddle 9-3-23, Jon Burnett 0-0-0, B.J. Kennedy 0-0-0, Kalidu Dia 0-0-0, Jacob Cromer 0-0-0, De’aris Smith 0-0-0. Totals: 25-4-63.
Troy Christian – 73
Holden Varvel 2-2-6, Aaron Horn 1-0-2, Spencer Thomas 4-4-13, Logan George 8-3-19, Grant Zawadzki 8-8-27, Derek Spencer 0-0-0, Isaiah Fairley 1-0-2, Dusty Poteet 2-0-4, Travis Sloan 0-0-0, Nathanael Boone 0-0-0, Luke Dillahunt 0-0-0. Totals: 26-17-73.
Score By Quarters
Lock 9 26 44 63
TC 21 35 55 73
3-point goals: Lockland – Short 4, Phillips 2, Boyd, Riddle 2. Troy Christian – Thomas, Zawadzki 3.
Records: Troy Christian 24-2.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 440-5251 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.