By Josh Brown
SPRINGFIELD — A foul committed by the opposition possibly hurt Troy more than any fouls the Trojans committed — though those proved costly, as well.
With Troy trailing by two with a minute to play, freshman Kiyha Adkins — who had just connected a layup to cut the lead to two — stole the ball at midcourt and appeared to be en route to a game-tying layup. But a foul had been called on Northwestern at the point of the steal, putting Troy on the free throw line instead. A missed front end, a Warrior rebound and a pair of free throws later, Northwestern was back in control — and it continued to cash in its fourth-quarter free throws to put away Troy 45-36 in the season opener Friday night at Northwestern.
“This game came down to one possession,” Troy girls basketball coach Nathan Kopp said. “We get a steal and a fast break and are on our way to tying the game, but we got fouled instead. We miss the front end, they get the rebound and hit their free throws. The final may have been 45-36, but this was a one-possession game until the final 30 seconds.”
That’s because Northwestern (1-0) converted from the free throw line on a regular basis in the fourth quarter, going 12 for 18 — including 9 for 10 in the final minute. And even when the Warriors missed, they were able to get offensive rebounds to keep possession and get more chances. Troy (0-1), meanwhile, was 5 for 13 in the game.
“That was the first thing we talked about in the locker room after the game,” Kopp said. “They were 19 for 26, and we were 5 for 13. We had a couple of lane violations that hurt us, and then twice in the fourth quarter they missed front ends of one-and-ones and got the rebounds and went on to hit more free throws. That’s eight points right there.”
The loss spoiled the return of junior Kennedi Kyzer, who won the Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division Player of the Year award as a freshman but moved out of state during her sophomore year.
With neither team able to connect from the floor early in the game, Kyzer came off the bench and made her presence felt immediately, canning a 3 on her first shot for the first points of the game at the 5:20 mark of the first quarter. She hit another 3 and scored all nine of Troy’s first-quarter points, and the Trojans led 9-4 after one — with Northwestern’s Abby Zerkle hitting a 3 late for the Warriors’ only field goal of the quarter.
That ended up being a trend, though. Zerkle hit a 3 on the first possession of the second quarter, and she drilled two more in the second — including one late in the quarter to cut the Troy lead to 21-19 at the half.
Zerkle had 14 of the Warriors’ 19 points at the half, while Kyzer scored 13 before the break.
“It was disappointing that we let her get free like that,” Kopp said of Zerkle. “She hit one at the end of the first, and we told the girls we had to chase her off the 3-point line, make her drive because she doesn’t like to do that. But we had some breakdowns, and those kind of things happen.”
Early in the third, Kyzer hit another 3 that gave Troy a 26-21 lead, but the Warriors’ Jenna Robbins scored eight third-quarter points and kept the Trojans off the boards to keep Northwestern within striking distance. And at the 2:50 mark, Korynne Berner won a scramble after the Troy defense poked away a loose ball, hitting a jumper to give the Warriors their first lead at 27-26. Alaura Holycross (six points, 10 rebounds) hit a free throw to tie the score, but Robbins scored inside and Berner hit a pair of free throws, and Northwestern led 31-27 after three.
Both teams struggled to score until the midway point of the fourth, when Sierra Besecker stole the ball and Holycross put back a missed 3 attempt to get Troy to within two at 32-30. Berner missed a pair of free throws, but she got her own rebound — and Zerkle scored on a baseline drive to keep the Warriors in control. Adkins (four points, four steals) answered with a drive to make it 34-32 — setting up the critical sequence on the steal by Adkins on the next possession.
Kyzer finished with 20 points, tied for the game-high total with Zerkle. Bailey Hess added two points and six rebounds, Jenna Kaup and Maddy Taylor each had two points and Besecker had five assists as 12 Trojans saw significant time on the floor.
“That’s going to be our biggest challenge this year. We’ve got to find the right rotation,” Kopp said. “We’ve got so many kids we think can help us this year, it will just be a matter of finding the right combinations for the right matchups and figuring out who has the hot hand at the time.”
Robbins had eight points and 11 rebounds, Berner had six points and seven rebounds, Katelyn Partlow added six points and Cameryn Ciresi added five points.
Troy hosts Oakwood in its home opener Tuesday.
“The season isn’t going to be dictated by one game,” Kopp said. “This was a one-possession game in the final minute. I thought we got good looks, but the ball just didn’t bounce our way tonight.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.