By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
TROY — The biggest ovation Friday night wasn’t for any of Troy Christian’s multiple fast-break layups.
Not even for Isaac Gray’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to put the Eagles up 17 at halftime.
No, the loudest, biggest ovation of the night was saved for senior Jordan Isenbarger, who, despite having shoulder surgery that could have made him miss his entire senior season, was chosen to take a pair of free throws after a technical foul was called on Legacy Christian midway through the fourth quarter. And Isenbarger knocked down both of them to raucous applause, making his contribution to the Troy Christian basketball team’s 39-21 Metro Buckeye Conference victory over the Knights Friday at the Eagles’ Nest.
The opportunity came after Legacy Christian converted a 3-point play to cut Troy Christian’s lead to 33-21 and stole the ball back with a chance to get even closer. Izaak Frantom drew a charging foul, though, and the Knights’ player was hit with a technical for arguing after the fact — giving Isenbarger his chance.
“Honestly, I was super nervous,” he said. “I was out there shaking. If you looked close enough, you could see me shaking. But I just thought, ‘man, I can’t miss this.’ But I felt confident. I practice shooting free throws every single practice.”
“It’s a sad story. He had labrum surgery, and he’ll miss his whole senior year,” Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadzki said. “I talked to him and his parents, and I wanted him on the roster and with this team. He’s a very important part of this team.
“He shoots 100 free throws every day at practice, so if there’s a technical, no matter what the situation, time or score, he’s going to go in and shoot them. And you could see by the reaction of our bench how much they love him, and even the fans responded. Because they know it’s his senior year, and that could be the only two shots he gets to shoot all year.”
With the home crowd and his bench cheering wildly, Isenbarger hit both free throws, and then Chas Schemmel scored on a drive to finish off a four-point swing and give the Eagles a 16-point lead with 3:53 to play, effectively sealing the win.
“It means a lot,” Isenbarger said. “It’s really encouraging to see that, even though I don’t play, people still care about me and want to see me do well. It’s exciting to be able to go in there and do that.”
And it was an important win, too.
Troy Christian improved to 7-1 overall with its sixth straight win, as well as 5-0 in MBC play, maintaining a one-game lead over Emmanuel Christian and Dayton Christian. Legacy Christian, last year’s champion, fell to 1-8 overall and 1-4 in the MBC.
“It’s good to get through December 5-0 in the conference,” Zawadzki said. “One of the goals for this group is to win the conference. The first five are out of the way, but we’ve got nine more tough ones — because none of them have been easy.”
And in all of their wins, the Eagles have had two constants: defense and the ability to hit free throws. And Friday was no different.
Troy Christian only allowed two field goals in the first half — one in the first quarter and one in the second — jumping out to an 11-2 lead after one and building a 21-4 lead at the break. It was the second time this season that the Eagles have held a team to four first-half points, the other being a 35-25 win at Mississinawa Valley on Dec. 14.
“Our first foundational block for this team is defense,” Zawadzki said. “Our kids have really bought in. We’re going to defend no matter what. I tell them all the time that it doesn’t matter about your offense, but you can always defend. And they’ve really bought into that.”
The Eagles also got to the line all night and made the most of those opportunities, going 10 for 11 in the first half to help build that 17-point lead and finishing the night an efficient 16 for 18.
“The second foundational block is free throws,” Zawadzki said. “We’re on a clip to set a school record, shooting about 78 percent as a team.
“Those two blocks have been our strength — but we’ve got to find a third block. And we need it to be our offensive efficiency.”
That was a question mark even in Friday’s win, with Troy Christian only tallying 11 total field goals on the night. A number of those were easy transition buckets off of steals, as the Eagles used 13 first-half turnovers by Legacy Christian to fuel its offense. But once the Knights began making shots in the second half and were able to set up their own pressure defense, the Eagles committed nine of their 16 turnovers on the night after halftime, allowing Legacy to hang around.
“I think we just got a little frustrated and a little pressed,” Zawadzki said. “We want to do well, but when you start thinking too much about it, it becomes harder instead of easier. We’ve got to get more unselfish on the offensive end, start thinking of others over ourselves and work it that way instead of thinking we’ve got to go out and individually be successful.”
The closest the Knights got in the second half was 11, though, as Troy Christian’s defense remained tough. After a 3 by Max Glover cut the lead to 26-15, Connor Peters hit a set of three free throws to give the Eagles a 29-15 lead going into the fourth quarter. And once Legacy cut it two 12, the technical foul and Isenbarger helped Troy Christian seal it.
Peters finished with a game-high nine points and four assists for Troy Christian, while Brady Clawson added eight points and six rebounds, helping the Eagles win the rebounding battle on the night, 30-25. Gray and Frantom each added five points, Lucas Day and Ben Major each finished with four, Schemmel had two points and five rebounds and Isenbarger had two points.
Brett Carson and Jonathan Riddle each had five points and seven rebounds for Legacy Christian, Glover also finished with five points, Evan Dodson had three, Andrew Riddle scored two and Charlie Luke had one point and five rebounds.
Troy Christian will finish the calendar year on Dec. 27 and 28 playing in Piqua’s WPTW Classic, taking on Lehman at 6 p.m. on Dec. 27 at Piqua High School, but they won’t get back into MBC play until Jan. 7, 2020 against Yellow Springs.
“We’ve got some challenges ahead of us,” Zawadzki said. “It’s a good battle with these three teams at the top, but any of them teams below can sneak up and beat somebody. I tell the kids one at a time, take care of business, and in the end, we’ll see what happens.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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