By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
VANDALIA — After graduating 1,000-point scorer James Anderson in the offseason, the question for the Troy Christian boys basketball team was where the offense would come from this year — so the Eagles used a team and next-guy-up mentality, as well as a rugged and tenacious defense, to earn a No. 9 seed and their first postseason win as a member of Division III.
And even after Wednesday night’s 49-44 loss to eighth-seeded Waynesville in the second round of the D-III sectional tournament at Butler High School — a loss in which one go-to scorer could have likely helped — Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadzki wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“We want to go out being Troy Christian,” he said. “Having a go-to guy isn’t something that’s important to us because of who we are. Our offense is set up to take advantage of what the defense gives us. We’ve been relying on a team effort all year long, and we want to represent well on and off the court.”
In the end, though, the Eagles (16-8) simply couldn’t score against the Spartans’ high-pressure defense in the closing minutes.
With the score tied 40-40 with 3:31 left in the game, Waynesville (16-7) got a steal but missed two free throws, only to get another defensive stop and one free throw by Alex Hurley to take a one-point lead with 2:07 to play. A blocked shot by Anthony Carmichael kept the Eagles from retaking the lead and a John Cole free throw made it a two-point game, then Carmichael stole the ball and hit a pair of free throws to make it 44-40 with 1:30 to play — and the Eagles never got closer than four after that, getting only a free throw by Connor Case and a 3 by Jackson Kremer offensively in the game’s final four minutes.
“We tried multiple sets, but give Waynesville credit. They applied a lot of pressure,” Zawadzki said. “Something we haven’t seen all year — they were doubling in the full court, doubling in the half court, and they did a good job taking us out of our sets. But in that last three minutes, we were able to run our sets. We just didn’t execute.”
And much of that was due to the Spartan defense, which forced 23 turnovers on the night, including six in the fourth quarter — four during the final three minutes.
“Twenty-three turnovers? I’ll have nightmares about that. That will bug me for a long time,” Zawadzki said. “That’s putting the ball into their hands in a good place, three-on-two or two-on-one, and we couldn’t recover from that, truthfully.”
The game didn’t begin that way, though, as Troy Christian was able to maintain a methodical pace and connect on its shots, going on a 6-0 run to begin the game and a 10-0 run after that to stake itself out to a 16-3 first-quarter lead. And when Connor Peters threaded the needle with a cross-court pass to Izaak Frantom for a 3 to end the quarter, the Eagles led 19-9, with six different players scoring in the opening quarter — and the team with a 12-3 edge on the boards.
And though that rebounding advantage never went away — the Eagles outrebounded the Spartans 32-23 on the night — Waynesville forced eight second-quarter turnovers and held Troy Christian scoreless until a buzzer-beating desperation 3 by Jackson Kremer made the score 23-22 Spartans at the half.
“Defensively, we were taking charges, we were in control of the glass — we were really spot on,” Zawadzki said. “But 23 turnovers, that’s way too many. Our kids were having trouble slowing their heart rate down. We tried pulling them out to hit the reset button, but we were just having a tough time doing that.
“Our defense gave them fits, but they just got so many baskets off of our turnovers.”
Troy Christian regained control in the third quarter, with consecutive layups on fast breaks by Isaac Gray and Brady Clawson giving the Eagles a 36-30 lead, but Waynesville’s Bryce Nolbertowicz hit a late 3 to keep the Spartans within striking distance at 36-33 heading into the final eight minutes.
The Eagles maintained that three-point lead at 40-37 until Cole drilled a 3 with 3:31 remaining to tie the score, and from there the Waynesville defense took over — and the Spartans hit just enough free throws late to win, going 11 for 20 in the fourth and 15 for 30 in the game.
Ryan Papanek and Luke Kindred each scored 11 to lead Waynesville, Nolbertowicz and Hurley each added eight, Cole had seven points and five rebounds and Carmichael had four points and seven rebounds.
Kremer led the Eagles with 10 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots, Clawson had eight points and six rebounds, Peters had seven points, four rebounds and three assists, Frantom added seven points, Gray had six points and four rebounds and Case and Chace Varvel each chipped in three points.
And though it was the final game for the team’s three seniors, Kremer — who leaves as the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots — Case and Varvel, Zawadzki said they left a lasting mark on the program that will help the returning talent move forward in the coming years.
“These three seniors leave the program better than when they came in, and that’s all I ask out of the kids,” Zawadzki said. “Jackson, Chace and Connor have meant a lot to me and a lot to Troy Christian basketball. I’m proud of the kids. They couldn’t have been more fun to coach.”
And knowing that if the team had to get beat, it wanted to do it being itself.
Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.