By Josh Brown
TROY — Troy had an extra week to get ready for primetime.
Greenville had a something of a head start.
And though the relatively inexperienced Trojans battled through a back-and-forth first half and controlled the game for most of the second half, the veteran Green Wave team — led by a fourth-quarter explosion by Isaiah Gable — turned an eight-point third-quarter deficit into a 75-67 victory in Troy’s season and home opener, as well as the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division opener for both teams, Friday night at the Trojan Activities Center.
For almost half the Trojans (0-1, 0-1 GWOC American North) that saw the floor Friday night, it was their first varsity experience at all.
“It was our first game — and for a lot of our guys, it was their first varsity game,” Troy boys basketball coach Paul Bremigan said. “Four guys, five if you count (Hayden) Kotwica, who played as a sophomore, and Zach Boyer, he played last in eighth grade. The kids stepped up and did the job and played hard.
“They weren’t intimidated by the atmosphere. If they keep playing hard like that, they’ll be playing in front of bigger and bigger crowds, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
And though Greenville (1-1, 1-0 GWOC American North) — which won for the seventh straight time against Troy — was a tough task to start with, it was only the beginning of a baptism by fire.
Troy hosts Sidney Tuesday, the second of three straight GWOC American North Division matchups to begin the season, with a stretch of five division games in the first six.
“We’ve got to play them sometime. Might as well get them early,” Bremigan said. “We had an extra week of practice, were supposed to open up last Saturday, but it is what it is. It’s going to be fun. This conference, I told the kids that I think there’s going to be a lot of games like this.”
Four of Troy’s veterans led the way on the night. Ryan McClurg, the Trojans’ leading returning scorer from a season ago, scored 13 of his team-high 17 points in the second half, and Keenan Kinnel added 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Zion Taylor added 10 points and three rebounds and Zach Reichelderfer had eight points and four rebounds.
The newcomers gave the Trojans a boost, too. Sophomore Eli Palmer had seven points, three rebounds and three assists off the bench, Kotwica had seven points in his return to basketball, Boyer added six points and five rebounds and Brenden Kinnel had one point.
“Ryan’s coming back with the most points returning, but we had pretty balanced scoring tonight,” Bremigan said. “That’s how we’re going to have to play.”
Friday night, the Trojans played tough.
The first half saw the lead change hands eight times, as well as four ties, as both teams fought aggressively. The Wave led 17-14 after the first quarter and led held their biggest lead of the half at 19-14 early in the second, but Troy’s Palmer and Taylor came off the bench to hit 3s and a half-court lob from Taylor to Boyer on an inbounds play gave the Trojans a 22-21 lead. Greenville’s Peter Pandey gave the lead back to the Wave, but Gable was called for his third foul early and had to sit the rest of the half. Still, Greenville was able to rebuild a 29-24 lead with 3:08 left in the quarter.
Troy closed the half on a 13-3 run, though, with Palmer and Taylor hitting back-to-back 3s to give Troy a 30-29 lead. The teams traded free throws and the lead again until a Reichelderfer free throw gave the Trojans a 33-32 edge, then Palmer hit Reichelderfer on a fast break for a layup and set up Keenan Kinnel for a jumper to give Troy a 37-32 lead at the break.
The Trojans maintained the advantage throughout the third, with Gable getting hit with his fourth foul midway through the quarter and remaining a non-factor. Troy built its biggest lead of the game at 51-43 on a putback by Boyer with 1:50 left in the third, and the Trojans held a 53-48 lead going into the final quarter.
Back on the floor in the fourth, though, Gable made himself a factor again.
Greenville scored six points in a 15-second span to take the lead early in the fourth, with Aaron Rich scoring a layup, stealing the ball and finding Gable for a fast break bucket then stealing the ball again and scoring himself to make it 56-54. Reichelderfer scored on a tough drive to tie the score again, but Gable drilled a 3. Kotwica and McClurg both hit pairs of free throws to put Troy up again briefly, but two straight layups by Gable gave the Wave the lead for good.
Troy got to within two at 65-63 with two minutes to go after a Brenden Kinnel free throw, then got to within three at 69-66 after a McClurg 3-pointer, but Rich, Pandey and Gable combined to go 6 for 6 from the free throw line in the final minute to put the game away.
Gable finished with a game-high 25 points — scoring 15 of them in the fourth quarter — Rich added 21 points and eight rebounds and Pandey had 12 points. Trae Wood chipped in eight points, Devin Hendrix had five and Kyle Mills had four.
“They got up six, seven points at the right time,” Bremigan said. “If you get up by that much, a good time to do it is with about three minutes to go. We turned it over, missed some free throws, gave up some offensive rebounds.
“But I thought the kids played hard tonight. That’s something we can take away from it. I know that’s not going to make them feel much better after the loss, but we played hard. They got after it.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.