By Josh Brown
PIQUA — After three straight narrow victories to start the season, followed by a pair of division losses, Troy’s recipe for putting together a convincing victory was a simple one.
“When we play with energy, we play together, we play for one another and we find a way to have fun on the floor, this is what can happen,” Troy girls basketball coach Aaron Johnson said. “Those are the three values we’re trying to instill in the girls — have fun, play hard and play for each other.”
And while putting all of that together has been tricky recently, the Trojans got a little extra motivation Wednesday night — facing rival Piqua.
Senior Alaura Holycross scored a career-high 21 points and had a team-high seven rebounds, and the Trojans used a 12-1 run in the second quarter and a 10-2 run to end the game — both spurred by switches to a full-court press on defense — to put away a solid 49-31 victory over the rival Indians in Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division play Wednesday at Piqua.
“It did, honestly,” Holycross said when asked if facing Piqua helped after two straight losses to Sidney and Butler. “Especially because our energy at practice has been pretty low — but once Piqua week came around, we stepped it up a bit. Once we started playing, we had a lot of energy, a lot of people were talking, our bench was going — everyone was involved.
“Playing Piqua’s always personal for me. They’re our rival, and every time I step on the court, I just have this major attitude, like ‘we’re going to beat this team no matter what.’ I’m just so proud of my team and how we worked together. Especially after two straight losses, it feels great.”
It was the third straight win against the Indians for Troy (4-2, 2-2 GWOC American North) after dropping both games to them in the 2014-15 season. Last year, Bailey Hess had a career-high 24 points in a 54-15 win, then a team effort led by Jordan Short’s nine off the bench knocked off Piqua 48-21.
Wednesday, Holycross took her turn leading the way.
Holycross had half of the Trojans’ first-quarter points, as nothing came easy. With Piqua (1-7, 0-4 GWOC American North) leading 7-4, Holycross took in a steal for a layup, then Kiyha Adkins scored on a drive to give Troy an 8-7 lead after one. And to start the second, the lead changed hands on six consecutive baskets, with Holycross twice scoring inside to give the Trojans the lead, Piqua retaking it each time and then MaKenna Taylor converting a three-point play to put the Trojans up 15-13 early in the quarter.
“Our gameplan was to pound the paint,” Johnson said. “We wanted to start in the paint. I just had a feeling that Alaura, as strong as she is — at 5-foot-5, 5-6 — as strong as she is, her presence has been so dominating. And she did, she dominated.”
A switch to the full-court press — something that also helped raise the team’s energy levels in the season-opening win at Springfield Shawnee — helped the Trojans pull away for good.
After Taylor’s three-point play gave them the lead, Adkins and Holycross converted back-to-back steals for easy layups to make it a six-point game and force a Piqua timeout with 4:31 left in the half. Gabbi Johnson tipped another rushed Piqua pass to Adkins, though, and Short scored a putback in transition to keep the run going. The teams traded free throws to make it 22-14, then Johnson hit a short jumper to give Troy a 10-point lead, and a steal and layup by Hess before halftime put the Trojans up 26-16.
“(Assistant) coach (Kurt) Snyder said ‘let’s run the press’ — and we’ve worked on it since that first game,” Johnson said. “I think that made a big difference, too. We were able to pressure the ball, cause some turnovers and get some easy baskets. We have not had many easy baskets in our first five games, and that helped.”
Troy forced six of Piqua’s 18 turnovers in the second quarter — with all of them leading to baskets.
“We converted,” Johnson said. “We’ve cause turnovers in the past, but we weren’t able to convert them. We weren’t able to finish the job, and tonight, the girls were able to finish the job.”
That certainly didn’t stop in the second half, either.
Adkins got the ball inside to Holycross for two straight buckets to start the third, then Holycross hit a free throw after an offensive rebound to make it 31-18. both teams struggled for the rest of the quarter until Tylah Yeomans hit a jumper for Piqua with 3:56 left and Adkins used a spin move to get free in transition and found Tia Bass for a layup to make it 33-20 heading into the fourth.
The Indians closed the gap to 10 at 39-29 with 2:30 left to play, but then the Trojans switched back to the press and it was all over. Holycross hit a pair of free throws, then Short stole the ball and hit Hess for a fast break layup. After a series of free throws and a Piqua basket to make it 45-31, Holycross scored on a drive and Short hit a pair of free throws to close out the 18-point win.
“To come into this house and walk away with the victory is good,” Johnson said. “To walk away in somewhat convincing fashion is even better. I just hope we feed off of this and maybe this gets us over the hump and starts us rolling. The girls have that ability. But we’ve still got work to do.”
Holycross was steady throughout, with 10 of her 21 points in the first half and 11 in the second. Hess added 10 points, Short had six, Adkins had five points and three assists, Johnson and Bass had two points each, with Bass adding six rebounds, and Jenna Kaup had six rebounds as the Trojans won on the glass 26-18.
Lauryn Gray led Piqua with 10 points and seven rebounds and Lily Stewart scored seven, but no other Indians had more than four points.
Now the Trojans will face Miami East at 6 p.m. Friday in the rescheduled Barnball Classic, with the tournament being trimmed down to only one day.
And for Troy, the trick will be to maintain the level it hit Wednesday night.
“I just feel like we have to use this experience and keep moving. We have to keep going further and not going back,” Holycross said. “Starting tomorrow, I feel like we have to be at practice with high energy like this, and everyone has to be involved like in this game. We can’t really afford to go back. We have to keep going forward.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.