By Josh Brown
TROY — As the announcer read off each senior’s favorite basketball memory during Troy’s Senior Night festivities before Friday’s regular season finale, more than half of them proved to be the same memory — beating Piqua last year on their home floor.
So the Trojans made a new memory.
Troy (8-14, 4-6 Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division) went on a 12-3 run to close the third and take control, then the Trojans played solid defense and won all the hustle plays to add to that lead throughout the fourth and Romello Yaqub went 5 for 9 from the free throw line in the final minute to put away a 55-50 victory over the rival Piqua Indians Friday at the Trojan Activities Center.
“It feels pretty great,” said Yaqub, who led Troy with 21 points, eight assists and four steals. “Nothing feels better than winning your last game on your home floor against your rival in front of your home crowd.”
“It feels amazing,” said fellow senior Mechia Linton, who hit the game-winning shot against Sidney Tuesday and added 11 points against Piqua Friday. “It’s unbelievable to think I’m a senior now, playing my last game against Piqua. Beating Piqua at home in my last game? It feel awesome. You couldn’t ask for more.”
The Trojans couldn’t have ended the regular season better, either.
The win was Troy’s second straight and fourth in its last six games heading into its first-round sectional tournament matchup against fifth-seeded Xenia on Feb. 19. The eight wins is also the most for the Trojans in a year since the 2011-12 season, when the team went 17-7 and reached the district final.
“We’ve beat two good teams in a row now. This was a really good win for our kids,” coach Paul Bremigan, in his first year with the Trojans, said. “We’ve played 10 games in about 24 days now, haven’t had a lot of time to practice, but we’ve come a long way in those games. And when we have had practice, they’ve been good. Our communication and our leadership is getting better, and the kids are seeing the results on the floor.”
“We played a good team game,” senior Austin Persinger said. “We played very well together. Everyone had their own way to help tonight to get the win.”
And with Piqua (12-10, 5-5 GWOC North) leading 27-22 at halftime, every Trojan had to pitch in somehow.
Seniors Austin Persinger (six points, nine rebounds) and Austin Funderburg (four points, three assists) scored all of their points in the third quarter, with Funderburg hitting a pair of early buckets to get the Trojans started and Persinger scoring on back-to-back possessions to tie the score at 32-32. Persinger then drove and kicked out to an open Yaqub for 3 to give the Trojans their first lead since early in the second quarter.
Derrick Gullett (13 points) ended the seven-point run with a layup, but Trey Bucio found Yaqub open for another 3 to widen the Trojans’ lead. After an Indian free throw, Yaqub drove and dumped to Persinger, who got the roll at the buzzer to put Troy up 40-35 heading into the final eight minutes.
And one play in the middle of the fourth summed up the Trojans’ attitude during the final stretch of the season.
With Troy holding its biggest lead of the game at 47-38, Yaqub drove the lane and dished to Persinger — who wasn’t ready for a pass coming in as fast as it was, and the ball got away. Yaqub chased after it, though, leaping out of bounds and throwing in back in to Persinger, who was fouled immediately. He hit one of two to put the Trojans up by 10 with three minutes to play — maximum effort for even one solitary point.
“That’s what we’ve got to do,” Bremigan said. “We weren’t doing that earlier this season. We would just kind of jog after loose balls. If you go after the ball hard, you get rewarded for it.”
“We were happy with the way we were playing after the first half,” Yaqub said. “But we also knew it was our last regular season game. We knew we had to put it all on the line, had to hustle for every last loose ball.”
“These last couple games, we’ve been resilient,” Persinger said. “We’ve been going hard every play in practice and on the court, and it’s been paying off. It’s our senior year, and we’ve been pushing ourselves. We don’t want it to be over.”
Every last point proved to be important, too, as the Indians’ Colton Bachman scored 10 of his team-high 21 points in the final two minutes, hitting a pair of long 3s while Piqua fouled Troy on the other end to try to catch up. But Yaqub took all of those free throws late, going 5 for 9 and making sure the Indians never got closer than four, keeping it a two-possession game at least until the end.
“I was confident with about three minutes left, thought we could spread them out, but we made some bad decisions,” Bremigan said. “We were trying to win by 20 points instead of 10, and that’s not going to fly against a team with a shooter like Bachman.
“We like to have the ball in Romello’s hands in situations like that. He’s a good free throw shooter and ball handler. He’s cut his turnovers down a lot, too. He had games earlier this year with five or six assists but just as many turnovers. He’s been playing really well for us.”
Bucio had a solid game with six points and four rebounds as the Trojans honored their seven seniors: Yaqub, Linton, Persinger, Bucio, Funderburg, Estevan Stafford and DeMarcus Moody. Juniors Ryan McClurg and Keenan Kinnel were the only underclassmen to score for Troy in the game, each hitting a 3 and scoring three points.
“I Was really happy for Trey. I thought he played really well tonight,” Bremigan said. “He’s a true gym rat, in here early every day, and he played well tonight. Persinger played hard tonight, and he’s been doing that for the past couple games. Everybody’s been doing it. Everyone played hard tonight.”
Nate Monnin added five points and 13 rebounds and C.J. Davis chipped in five points for Piqua, which plays No. 16 Beavercreek in the first round of the sectional tournament on Feb. 20 at Centerville.
The 17th-seeded Trojans, meanwhile, face No. 5 Xenia at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at Butler.
Looking to make one more memory.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.