By Josh Brown
TROY — With Legacy Christian denying entry passes, bodying him up and throwing two, three, even four defenders at him in the paint, Troy Christian big man James Anderson took what the defense gave him.
And the Knights were powerless to stop it.
Anderson was a perfect 3 for 3 from 3-point range — including one to break a 46-46 tie with roughly two minutes to play that put the Eagles up for good — and finished with a double-double on the night as fourth-seeded Troy Christian (17-7) won a back-and-forth battle with conference rival Legacy Christian 57-49 in the second round of the Division IV sectional tournament Tuesday at the Trojan Activities Center.
The Troy Christian junior hit a pair of open first-half 3s to help the Eagles hold a one-point lead at the break, 24-23. But after fifth-seeded Legacy Christian (12-11) — which the Eagles split the regular season series with — took a 37-36 lead heading into the fourth, the lead changed hands a total of 15 times before Anderson’s third 3 of the night gave Troy Christian a lead it would not relinquish with two minutes to play.
“I’m used to stepping out behind the line — it’s just a matter of if they guard me or not,” Anderson said. “Tonight, I noticed they weren’t guarding me out there, and I was feeling it.”
“We trust James from 3-point range if he shoots the right shot,” Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadzki said. “Right now, they’re giving him that, so he needs to take advantage of that.
“What you saw was a big-time player making big-time plays. They may not have been the easy inside buckets that he got all year, but he stepped out and hit the 3s. And his free throws were key tonight, too.”
Anderson led all scorers with 24 points on the night and added 12 rebounds — nine of those coming in the second half after largely being rendered ineffective in the paint by the Knights’ defense. He also went 7 for 9 from the free throw line as Troy Christian was 15 for 20 as a team in the game, including 8 for 11 in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
“When you’re at 50 percent (free throw shooting) for the year, and you go 15 for 20, that’s a huge step, a huge improvement,” Zawadzki said. “But that’s a commitment that the kids have made to getting better in that area.
“They kind of stuck us in the heart at their place (during the second meeting this season). We lost by one, and the shot at a league title went away with that loss. So we kind of owed them — but we didn’t look at it that way, though. We looked at it as we are in a tournament basketball game against a quality team with a quality coach. And we knew that every play was going to be important — which was why I was very animated when we made some mistakes.”
Both teams made those, though, and both capitalized when they could.
After the Knights took a 10-9 lead late in the first quarter, Anderson gave the Eagles the lead with a transition layup to kick off a 10-0 run that lasted into the second quarter. Another layup by Anderson and then the first of his 3s made it 17-10, then Ben Schenk finished off another fast break to give the Eagles their biggest lead of the game at 19-10 before Keano Hammerstrom hit a 3 to end the run … and begin a 13-2 Legacy Christian run that put Troy Christian down 23-21. A free throw by Anderson and a layup by Schenk, though, put the Eagles up 24-23 at the half.
Troy Christian held a five-point lead in the third at 30-25 after a three-point play by Peyton Spurlock, but Legacy battled back and claimed a 37-36 lead after three on a jumper by Ashton Burke. No one could keep the lead in the fourth, though, as the lead changed hands seven times in the quarter alone. After a three-point play in transition gave the Knights a 46-44 lead, Anderson scored inside to tie the game.
The Eagles got a stop on defense, but Jacob Brown missed a 3-pointer — only to get his own offensive rebound and kick to a wide-open Anderson, who sank his third 3 of the game and have Troy Christian a 49-46 lead.
The down side, though? Burke beat the Eagle defense back the other way for an easy bucket to cut the lead back to one with just under two minutes to play.
“That just gave us momentum and boosted everyone else’s confidence when I hit that,” Anderson said. “But the thing was we gave up a bucket the other way, and that kind of killed it. But we recovered well from that after a timeout. Coach Zawadzki just said we had to start getting back on defense and getting in front of them.”
“We struggled with our transition defense,” Zawadzki said. “Legacy has improved immensely. They’ve got a lot of young people that can all play basketball, and they’re very talented. And I know Tri-Village is licking its chops watching that. We’ve only got two days to fix that, but we’re going to work hard to get that taken care of.”
Troy Christian got a stop again, though, and Anderson spun his way into the paint and scored to make it 51-48 Eagles with 1:18 to play. After a series of missed free throws by both teams, Spurlock stole the ball and Troy Christian called timeout with 47.9 seconds left, then Seth Wynne hit Hayden Hartman for a press-breaking layup to make it a five-point game. From there, Troy Christian went 4 for 4 from the free throw line as the Eagles closed the game on an 8-1 run to seal it.
Schenk finished with 14 points, with 10 coming in the first half. Wynne had five points, Brown had four points, six rebounds and three assists, Cameron Strine added four points, Spurlock had three, Hartman had two and Joel Thomas had one.
Burke led the Knights with 16 points and four rebounds, Hammerstrom had 13 points and six rebounds, David Kensinger had nine points, Erik Uszynski had five, Josh Frueh had four and Austin Frueh had two.
Now the Eagles face their biggest test of the year, top-seeded Tri-Village in Friday’s sectional championship game. The Patriots beat No. 13 Tri-County North 86-53 in the early game.
“We’re excited to be in the sectional final. It was our goal from day one,” Zawadzki said. “Our goal was to not only get here, but to win it and go to UD Arena — and nothing has changed. But right now, we have a giant in our path. Tri-Village is playing real well, and it’s going to take a monster effort from us to knock them off.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.