By Josh Brown
TROY — Entering Friday night, four teams sat tied atop the Metro Buckeye Conference standings with 3-1 records, and two of them were facing off against each other.
“Yellow Springs was tied with us for first place, and I think we wanted to make a statement,” Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadzki said. “And I thought we played with purpose and passion. We wanted people to know that we’re here to stay at the top.”
James Anderson hit his first five shots from the field and rarely missed all night, helping Troy Christian jump out to a big early lead. And even though the Bulldogs fought back, the Eagle defense took advantage of every mistake Yellow Springs made in the second half as Troy Christian pulled away for a convincing 64-39 victory Friday night at the Eagles’ Nest.
The Eagles improved to 8-2 overall and 4-1 in the MBC with the win — still tied for the MBC lead with Legacy Christian and Dayton Christian, which both also won on Friday. Yellow Springs, meanwhile, fell to 4-5 and 3-2 in the MBC.
Both of Troy Christian’s losses — including the MBC one to Dayton Christian — came during a four-game stretch where 6-foot-9 senior center Anderson was hobbled by a sprained ankle. But since the Eagles came back from Christmas break, he’s been back at full strength, and that was readily apparent on Friday as he led all scorers with 21 points and added nine rebounds and two blocked shots.
“You know, it’s nice to have a healthy James,” Zawadzki said. “I don’t like to make excuses for losses, but when he had that sprained ankle, it challenged us — but I think because of it, we’ve grown as a team. The way we’re entering the ball into the post is 100 percent better than it was at the beginning of the season.”
Against Yellow Springs, Anderson scored the first seven points of the game to spur a 10-0 Eagle run, and he connected on his first five attempts from the field to help Troy Christian take a 14-2 lead. For the night, Anderson was 10 for 13 from the field, and the Bulldog defense simply didn’t have an answer for him.
“Let’s be honest — most schools won’t have an answer for him if we can get it to him,” Zawadzki said. “And that’s what we’ve been working on real hard.
“I’m really proud of the kids. We had eight guys score tonight. I thought we got good contributions from multiple people. It’s obvious that we’re going to feed James, but you still need everybody else playing their role. And when you have seven other guys scoring — and it’s not just two points, its six or seven or eight — it can make you a special basketball team.”
But Yellow Springs didn’t give up. The Bulldogs went on an 8-0 run to get back to within four points and trailed 16-12 after one. And after a jumper by Trey Anderson, they cut the Eagles’ lead to only two at 19-17 with 4:30 left until halftime.
That proved to be as close as Yellow Springs got, though. Cameron Strine hit one of the Eagles’ five 3s on the night, then a steal led to a Colt Tanner fast-break layup. A 3 by Connor Case on an in-bounds play made it a 27-17 game, but a 3 by Don Isenbarger kept the Bulldogs within seven late in the half.
A putback by Anderson in the final minute got Troy Christian going again, though, and the Eagles turned another steal into a transition layup by Chace Varvel with no time on the clock — and the Yellow Springs bench was hit with a technical foul on the play, too, with Ben Schenk hitting both free throws to put Troy Christian up 33-20 at the break. From there, the Eagles outscored the Bulldogs 31-19 in the second half to put the game away.
“This was a game of runs early,” Zawadzki said. “We had the initial run, but they had the second run. We kind of got away from our gameplan, and they took advantage of it. But I think we got back to control of what the gameplan was.
“They’re the leading 3-point-shooting team and free throw-shooting team in the conference — and they only shot one free throw. That was No. 1 on our list, to keep them off the free throw line.”
And while Troy Christian was 5 for 10 from the line and Yellow Springs was 0 for 1, the real key statistic on the night was turnovers. The Eagles forced 20 in the game — and only committed five.
“This was our second game in a row under 10 turnovers,” Zawadzki said. “That’s a huge change for a team that was in the 20s early in the year. We’ve got a lot of athletes on this team, guys like Colt and Cameron and Ben, guys that will compete. And when you do that, when you have guys that will compete on the defensive end, you’re going to create loose balls. And I thought we were quick getting to the ball.”
In addition to Anderon’s 21 points, Strine finished with eight and Tanner and Schenk had seven apiece, with Tanner adding five assists. Jackson Kremer added six points, five rebounds and three blocked shots, Trent Huelskamp hit a pair of 3s and scored six points, Case finished with five and Varvel had four.
Andrew Clark led the Bulldogs with 10 points, James Browning had six points and nine rebounds and Anderson had six points and seven rebounds. Isenbarger, Ty Benning and Tony Marinelli each had five points and Kev Wagner scored two.
“We wanted to make a statement,” Zawadzki said. “The kids were very focused in practice all week. They had a very good week, and it showed tonight. That team (Yellow Springs) is averaging about 63 points per game, and we held them under 40.”
After hosting Houston Saturday night, Troy Christian travels to Legacy Christian with another shot at one of the MBC’s co-leaders.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.