By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
TROY — Four games into the season when it last faced Emmanuel Christian, the Troy Christian boys basketball team was still figuring out what kind of team it was.
Now, the Eagles know exactly who they are.
“We’re a blue-collar crew,” Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadzki said. “We pack our lunch, we go to work and we just put in sweat equity. And right now, these kids are getting the rewards of their sweat equity.”
Troy Christian used a 13-0 first-quarter run to take control and never let go Tuesday night against Emmanuel Christian, avenging an early-season loss that at the time snapped the defending Metro Buckeye Conference champion Eagles’ 12-game league winning streak to help the team claim sole possession of second place in the MBC with a 46-39 victory Tuesday night at the Eagles’ Nest.
The Eagles — who lost 52-46 to the Lions back on Dec. 11, 2018 — won their fourth straight overall and improved to 10-4 with the win, 6-2 in the MBC. Emmanuel Christian, meanwhile, saw its three-game winning streak snapped and fell to 10-3 and 6-3 in the MBC, with both teams trailing 9-0 Legacy Christian in the conference standings.
“The kids wanted this bad,” Zawadzki said. “They were very focused and determined to play very hard and be successful. Emmanuel’s a very good team, and they kind of put it to us over there — and our kids didn’t like it. And they were really on a mission tonight to get sole possession of second place and show them that we can play the game.”
And for Troy Christian, the name of the game is defense. The Eagles lead the MBC, allowing only 39.6 points per game, and that continued Tuesday night as they held all of Emmanuel Christian’s top scorers — two of which entered the night in the top five in the league in scoring — well below their season averages.
“Going in, our goal was to keep them under 40,” Zawadzki said. “We felt that if we held them under 40, we had a 100 percent chance to win. And you’ve got to give our team credit. The attention to detail in the scouting report was top notch tonight. There were a couple mistakes, but in the course of this game we had minimal mistakes defensively and only seven turnovers offensively.
“Our gameplan was to take Casey Swank and Adonis Davis out of the game, and we were going to live with Fred Shropshire beating us — and I think he got tired physically. He was having to bring the ball up, he had to shoot with guys guarding him, and it really worked to perfection. I think going in, Swank and Davis were the second- and third-leading or third- and fourth-leading scorers in the league.”
And even though offense has been the question mark for Troy Christian all year, the Eagles had every answer Tuesday night.
After the Lions scored the first two points of the game, the Eagles went on a 13-0 run and never lost the lead again. Isaac Gray kicked it off with a 3, then he dished to Brady Clawson for a fast-break finish and Izaak Frantom canned a 3 after a steal by Connor Case to give Troy Christian an 8-2 lead. After another steal by Case, Frantom fed Clawson with a behind-the-back pass to make the score 10-2 and force the Lions to call timeout with 3:43 left in the first.
But Connor Peters rattled in a 3 after the timeout to make the score 13-2 before Emmanuel finally ended the run, and the Eagles led 16-5 after the first quarter. Shropshire cut the lead to four at 19-15 in the middle of the second, but a putback by Jackson Kremer and a bucket by Gray kept the Eagles in firm control, and they led 27-17 at halftime.
The two teams punched and counter-punched throughout the entire second half, with the Lions turning what had been as big as a 12-point lead into a 36-29 Eagle advantage after three. Swank scored his first points of the game, hitting a 3-pointer to kick off the fourth and get the Lions to within four again, but that was as close as they got as Gray scored six of his points in the fourth and Troy Christian responded each and every time Emmanuel scored to maintain their lead to the end.
Gray led the Eagles with 12 points, Frantom had eight points and four assists, Clawson had eight points and nine rebounds and Kremer had eight points, six rebounds and four blocked shots. Case chipped in four points and three steals, Peters had four points and Jackson had three points as the Eagles won the turnover battle 12-7 and held the Lions to 35.9 percent from the field at 14 for 39.
“Jackson has been huge for us all year, and it doesn’t always show up in the box score,” Zawadzki said. “The box score doesn’t record blocks or rebounds or deflections in the passing lanes. He’s so good defensively, that we actually had him guarding all five of their guys tonight (at one time or another). When you have the ability to take your 6-foot-5 guy and do that, it really allows you to mess with other team’s offenses.
“Izaak had that behind-the back pass and knocked down two 3s. Tyler Jackson hit a huge 3 in the third. Connor Case had a pair of clutch layups in the second half. That’s why I love to coach this group — we’ve got eight core guys, and every night I don’t know which one’s going to be the hero. And right now, it’s every quarter I don’t know which one is going to step up. They’re sharing the wealth, and every time Emmanuel got close, we answered with a quality possession offensively and came away with a bucket.”
Davis led the Lions with 12 points and eight rebounds, Shropshire added 11 points and six rebounds, and Swank scored eight points — all in the fourth quarter.
Troy Christiantravels to Dayton Christian Friday.
Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.