By Josh Brown
TROY — Last season, Troy waited until its seventh game to know what victory felt like.
The Trojans weren’t about to wait that long again.
Led by a big night from explosive senior point guard Romello Yaqub and getting contributions from all over the roster, the Troy boys basketball team led from start to finish in Saturday night’s season opener against St. Marys at the Trojan Activities Center, handing new head coach Paul Bremigan a 66-44 victory in his Division I debut after his lengthy tenure at D-IV Russia.
Yaqub led all scorers with 21 points and added six assists, four rebounds and four steals to help Troy (1-0) win its first season opener since the 2011-12 season. But after going 6-17 last season, Yaqub and company were eager to get on the floor and show how far they’ve come — and they’re looking to keep that momentum going, too.
“It feel pretty great,” Yaqub said. “I’m just thankful for being on the floor again and getting to play with my teammates. We just have to keep this same intensity every night.”
But Yaqub wasn’t alone, either, as 10 other Trojans got onto the scoreboard.
Fellow senior Austin Persinger had 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots, while Ryan McClurg scored seven points — all of them coming in the fourth quarter after he was forced to change jerseys from No. 10 to No. 32 after suffering a cut. Mechia Linton added six points, seven rebounds and a block, Zach Reichelderfer had six points — all of them second-chance points — and six rebounds, Keenan Kinnel scored five points and Trey Bucio had four points, six rebounds and three assists.
“It’s good to know that I don’t have to do a lot of scoring every night,” Yaqub said. “I just have to be a leader of the team.”
That depth proved to be important, too, as Troy worked through foul trouble most of the night thanks to its in-your-face defense — a defense that allowed only four 2-point baskets by St. Marys all night.
“I’d like to think we can go 9 or 10 guys deep,” Bremigan said. “We’re pretty aggressive, and I don’t like sending people to the (free throw) line all night. But we had four or five different guys guard one of their better players, and the fact that we have that many guys that can guard like that, that makes me feel good.
“This is such an unselfish group, too. Romello, with the quickness he’s got, is able to create openings for a lot of people — and he’s able to find those openings. Everyone shares the basketball really well. I was very happy to see the guys get rewarded for their hard work.”
Troy began the game on an 11-2 run, scoring all of those points in transition off of steals, blocks or defensive rebounds. The Trojans built a 10-point lead late in the first before St. Marys’ Derek Jay hit a 3 that got the Roughriders to within 17-10 after one quarter.
Jay hit two more 3s early in the second quarter, and a putback by Randy Slife cut the deficit to four at 22-18 — but that would be as close as St. Marys would get. Yaqub scored on a baseline drive, then Austin Funderburg (two points, six rebounds, two blocks) rejected a shot and Yaqub hit a jumper in the lane on the other end. Another steal led to a fast break layup by Persinger, and the Roughriders were forced to call timeout down 28-18. The score hovered around that mark for the next four minutes before Yaqub hit a long 3 in the closing moments of the half to make the score 33-23 Troy.
The Trojans kept that momentum going in the third, starting the quarter off on a 13-0 run to give them 16 unanswered points. A floater in transition by Yaqub made it 46-23 before Drew Jacobs hit a 3 to end the run with 3:38 remaining in the third. The Roughriders went on an 8-0 run of their own to get back to within 46-31, but Troy finished the quarter with two straight buckets to take a 50-31 lead into the fourth.
St. Marys had one last chance to get back into the game early in the fourth after a technical foul, and Jay hit a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 50-35. But the Troy defense got a stop on the ensuing possession and Yaqub hit a layup and drew a foul going the other way. He missed the free throw, but Linton got the offensive rebound and eventually finished inside to make it 54-35 Troy, and the Trojans coasted from there.
“I was happy for the kids,” Bremigan said. “They’ve bought in to what we’ve been doing. We’ve seen improvement every week — and now that’s something we’ve got to strive for next week. It was good to get on the uniforms, get out and play. And Monday, we start fixing things.
Zion Taylor added two points and Esteban Stafford scored one for the Trojans as all 13 players played and contributed at least one rebound, steal or point.
Jay led the Roughriders with 17 points, hitting four 3s on the night. Drew Jacobs added seven points and Jacob Grannan and Austin Wilker scored six apiece.
Last season, the Trojans lost to St. Marys 46-45 on the road. Friday night, Troy gets a shot at another team that defeated it last season when it travels to Fairmont — who defeated the Trojans 65-54 in last season’s opener.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.