By Josh Brown
TROY — The Troy basketball team entered this season without much returning varsity experience.
But in a nip-and-tuck finish to the season opener, the Trojans were able to find a way.
Junior Jacob Martinez scored all six of his points in the fourth — including two clutch buckets in the paint to kick off the quarter and break up a tied score — and junior Cole Brogan and sophomore Chris DeMeo hit just enough free throws in the final eight minutes to give Troy enough of a cushion to hang on for a 39-37 victory over St. Marys Saturday night at the Trojan Activities Center.
The Trojans (1-0), who were 1-2 in the past three seasons against the Roughriders, same into the season with only three players with any extensive varsity experience in Eli Palmer, Brenden Kinnel and Zach Reichelderfer — and with Reichelderfer, the team’s leading returning scorer, not playing in Saturday night’s game. But through tough team defense, protecting the basketball on offense and everyone chipping in scoring, Troy was able to win its opener and take its record above the .500 mark for the first time since the team was 2-1 on Feb. 8, 2015.
“I’m really happy with this group. They’ve pulled together and are playing as a team,” Troy coach Paul Bremigan said. “They’re rooting for each other, and that’s really what we’re looking for. I’ve got a couple sophomores out there that played their first varsity game tonight. I’ve got Brenden and Eli out there, and Cole played in the tournament game last year, but other than that, everyone was playing their first varsity game. And I thought we executed the way we wanted. This was a good win for us.”
Palmer led the Trojans with 10 points on the night, hitting two 3s and scoring eight of those in the first half. DeMeo added nine points — seven in the first half — and four rebounds and all six Jacob Martinez’s and all three of Brogan’s points came in the fourth quarter. After that, Brayden Siler, Caillou Monroe, Austin Stanaford, Sam Shaneyfelt and Kinnel each scored two points and Adam Gates added one point.
Where Troy really gained the advantage — and one area that hurt the team all last season — was the turnover battle. Troy only turned the ball over five times in the first half while forcing 11 St. Marys turnovers, taking advantage of enough of them to claim a 20-17 halftime lead. For the game, Troy forced 19 turnovers and only committed 12.
When the Trojans were forced into a half-court game, though, the team struggled to create scoring opportunities on a regular basis. Troy finished with only 11 field goals — but the defense held St. Marys to the same total.
“I thought our guards played pretty well,” Bremigan said. “Eli played pretty well. We’ve got to focus on doing a better job of running our offense and getting shots. I thought the ball stuck on the wings a little too much, we held it too long instead of using ball reversal. We needed to catch, look and reverse it, but we didn’t. But we’re learning. That’ll come.”
After a back-and-fourth first quarter ended with both teams tied 10-10, the Trojans took charge early in the second after a jumper by Siler and a 3 by Palmer. St. Marys kept things close, but Troy held the lead throughout the second and third quarters until a bucket at the buzzer by Austin Wilker — who led the Roughriders with a game-high 13 points and six rebounds — tied the score at 26-26 heading into the final quarter.
And that’s where the Trojans finally put the game away.
Brogan fed Martinez in the paint on back-to-back trips down the floor to put Troy up 30-26, but a series of free throws over the next few minutes — mixed with a stagnant stretch for Troy’s offense — allowed St. Marys to pull to within 30-29 with 4:54 to play. The Trojans still held a 32-30 lead with less than three minutes to play before Brogan got the ball inside to Martinez again for a tough basket in the paint, then Stanaford sank a pair of free throws to put Troy up 36-30 with 2:28 to go.
Wilker scored on a tip-in with two minutes left, but St. Marys was forced to foul with time running out, and Brogan hit a pair of free throws with 51.9 seconds to go to keep Troy ahead by six. Troy missed a pair of free throws with 19.5 seconds on the clock, and Max Mielke scored on a putback to cut the lead to four with 7.8 seconds left. But DeMeo knocked down a free throw with 5.2 seconds remaining to make it 39-34 Troy, and a 3 by Mielke at the buzzer was too little, too late.
“I was real happy with our effort in the fourth quarter,” Bremigan said. “We didn’t shoot real well from the foul line, but we’ll work on that. I was happy with our bench, and I thought we did a really nice job on defense.”
Troy begins Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division play Friday at Greenville.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.