By Rob Kiser
PIQUA — Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadzki sees the Buckeye Insurance Group Holiday Classic as a way to prepare for tournament play.
And if Thursday night was any indication, Division IV opponents had better beware.
The Eagles jumped out to a 23-4 lead on Covington, held the Buccaneers to nine field goals for the game and coasted into the championship game with a 63-31 victory.
Covington (2-6) will play Lehman Catholic (2-5) Friday in the consolation game at 6 p.m., followed by Troy Christian (6-2) and Piqua (3-4) in the championship game.
“We look at this as a way to get ready for the postseason,” Zawadzki said about the two-day tournament. “We really enjoy playing in it.”
Covington coach Matt Pond couldn’t fault his team effort.
“The kids played hard,” Pond said. “They never quit. Sometime, when you get down like that early, you start putting up quick shots to try and get back in the game. And that is a credit to Troy Christian and the way they executed tonight.”
Troy Christian brought a healthy James Anderson to the floor, and that was a problem for Covington.
The 6-foot-9 senior scored six quick points in the opening quarter and finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds.
“I was really excited about the way we came out and executed our offense,” Zawadzki said. “With our offense, we want to go inside-out. We did a great job of that night. James (Anderson) has been limping around on one leg the last three games. It was great to see him healthy out there tonight.”
Chace Varvel hit two 3-pointers in the opening quarter and added eight points on the night, while Ben Schenck scored 14 off the bench in his first game back from an injury and Connor Case added 10.
Zawadzki also noted the play of 6-5 junior Jackson Kremer.
“I know he (Jackson Kremer) doesn’t show up a lot in the boxscore,” Zawadzki said. “But what he does out there frees James (Anderson) to go after rebounds and you saw the result.”
Covington, which trailed 19-4, 28-10 and 43-17 at the quarter breaks, was led by Braden Miller’s 11 points and Zach Parrett’s five rebounds.
“We just didn’t get a lot of shots to fall,” Pond said. “The kids are working hard. We just have to keep working at it and getting better.”
Troy Christian was 26 of 59 from the floor for 44 percent and five of nine from the line for 56 percent.
Covington was just nine of 45 from the floor for 20 percent, but made 10 of 13 free throws for 77 percent.
Troy Christian won the battle of the boards 44-24 and had eight turnovers to Covington’s 12.
If you simply listened to the coaches comments after the Piqua boys basketball teams 62-53 win over Lehman Catholic in the Buckeye Insurance Group Holiday Classic Thursday night, you wouldn’t have been sure who won.
Piqua (3-4) will play Troy Christian (6-2) in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. Friday, while Lehman (2-5) will play 2-6 Covington in the consolation game at 6 p.m.
Not that Piqua boys basketball coach Steve Grasso is complaining about a second consecutive win for the Indians.
“We don’t take any win for granted,” Grasso said. “I was concerned about this game. We had a long layoff once the Troy game was moved since we played. We played well in spurts, but we have to play much better against Troy Christian if we want to win.”
Lehman coach Tim Gleason couldn’t fault the effort of his kids.
“I thought we played great defense,” Gleason said about a zone that seemed to bother Piqua all night. “We just didn’t make any shots. That has been the story so far. This has been a really tough stretch. The kids did a great job of battling. I really feel like if we make any kind of shots, we would have had a win tonight.”
While Piqua didn’t always look good against the Cavaliers’ zone, the Indians were able to open a 27-13 lead midway through the second quarter.
“We did play well in spurts,” Grasso said. “I really can’t explain the lackadaisical effort or why we just stood around against the zone. We had prepared for it. I know our kids compete a lot harder in practice every day than they did tonight.”
Ben Schmiesing scored 12 of his 15 points in the opening half for Piqua, who led 31-22 at the break. He also had 10 of his 17 points in the opening half.
“I thought we did a really bad job of keeping (Ben) Schmiesing off the boards in the opening half,” Gleason said. “That is one of the things we focused on in the second half.”
One player who was able to attack the zone effectively for easy shots was Devon Brown.
The 5-foot-10 guard who can jump out of the gym was 10-for-15 from the floor in scoring a game-high 23 points.
“He was able to get inside the zone,” Grasso said. “And that’s how you beat it. He did a great job of using his athletic ability.”
Qurri Tucker added 12 points and Hayden Schrubb was close to a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds.
“Their athleticism was impressive,” Gleason said. “But that is what you expect from a school like Piqua. He (Devon Brown) is really tough to stop going to the basket. He is so athletic. The whole team is.”
Piqua, which led 15-8, 31-22 and 49-35 at the quarter breaks, could never quite shake the Cavaliers, who got as close as eight in the closing minutes.
Preston Rodgers scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half, constantly keeping the Cavaliers in striking distance — and he also grabbed five rebounds.
“He (Preston Rodgers) hit a lot of big shots,” Gleason said. “He hit a number of big shots, which was good to see.”
Brendan O’Leary added nine points, Conor O’Leary scored eight and Eliott Gilardi and Ryan Schmidt both had seven.
Piqua was 26 of 60 from the floor for 43 percent and had its best night of the year from the line, making nine of 14 for 64 percent.
Lehman was 22 of 43 from the floor for 51 percent and five of 15 from the line for 33 percent.
Piqua won the battle of the boards 42-25 and had 12 turnovers to Lehman’s 15.
The varsity title game will give Piqua a shot at its second B.I.G. Classic title.
“The last one was seven years ago,” Grasso said. “So, we have a chance to go out and do something we haven’t done in awhile. I have coach against (Troy Christian coach) Ray Zawadzki a number of times when I was at Yellow Springs. His kids are fundamentally sound and he does a great job with the program. We are going to have to play much better.”
Which is what both teams are hoping for.
Rob Kiser can be reached at (937) 451-3334.