By Josh Brown
VANDALIA — Troy felt like it had the best first-round matchup possible, given the circumstances.
After all, the 17th-seeded Trojans had scrimmaged No. 5 Xenia in the preseason — and defeated the Buccaneers.
“That was a long way away,” Troy coach Paul Bremigan said. “You can’t base a whole lot on a scrimmage in the preseason. But when you’re a 17 seed, you don’t have a whole lot of choices. You’re going to be playing someone good.”
And Xenia (18-5) showed just how far it had come since then, feeding its potent offense by forcing 30 Trojan turnovers on the other end and finishing the first half on a 14-2 run to build a 19-point lead at the break. And while Troy (8-15) did shoot better than 50 percent from the field in the game, it simply couldn’t hold onto the ball long enough to put up enough shots to mount any kind of comeback, falling 88-60 in the first round of the Division I sectional tournament Friday at Butler High School.
The two teams went in different directions after that first scrimmage, with Xenia winning a share of the Greater Western Ohio Conference South Division title, boasting the third-highest-scoring offense in the entire conference behind only the other two division champs, Wayne and Trotwood.
And while Troy began 2-1 and finished the regular season by winning four of its last six, separate five-game and six-game losing streaks in the middle cost them a decent seed heading into the postseason. And though they entered the tournament with solid momentum on the heels of back-to-back victories over division rivals Sidney and Piqua, the Trojans couldn’t maintain a solid start to Friday’s tournament game thanks to turnovers.
“We just had too many turnovers,” Bremigan said. “You can’t beat a team that’s got 17 wins when you’re turning the ball over the way we did tonight.”
Still, the Trojans fought hard early.
Xenia’s Danny Naylor hit back-to-back 3s to start the game, but Troy scored the next 10 straight points, a run punctuated by a three-point play by Mechia Linton and capped off by a Ryan McClurg 3 that put Troy up 10-6. The Bucs retook the lead after Ray James fell and lost the ball, only to have Brandon Love scoop it up and hit a 3 to make it 13-11 Xenia, but a drive by Romello Yaqub tied the score at 13-13.
The Bucs finished the quarter on an 8-0 run, though, with Love and Ricky Williams hitting back-to-back 3s and then James finishing off a fast break after one of Troy’s eight first-quarter turnovers, giving Xenia a 21-13 lead after one.
The Trojans kept things close thanks to Linton’s work on the offensive glass in the second, as the senior post’s third putback of the quarter got Troy to within seven at 30-23. But that was as close as Troy would get the rest of the way as Xenia scored 14 unanswered points before one last bucket by Linton made the halftime score 44-25 Buccaneers.
In the first half, Xenia was 17 for 34 from the field (50 percent) and hit seven 3-pointers, while Troy also shot 50 percent by going 11 for 22 from the field but committed 14 turnovers.
“Xenia played great tonight,” Bremigan said. “They had some kids hit some shots early, and that got them going. And then they just never stopped.”
Things didn’t go much better for the Trojans in the second half, especially with Linton leaving the game with an injury after being undercut while going up for a rebound. Yaqub, who only had three points at halftime, got hot, scoring 16 of his team-high 19 points and hitting three 3s in the second half, but 16 more turnovers cost Troy far too many opportunities — and handed them right to the Bucs.
Linton scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half and added six rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots, while Yaqub added two assists and two steals to his 19 points. Keenan Kinnel finished with seven points and two assists, Austin Persinger, Zach Reichelderfer and Demarcus Moody each had four points, McClurg finished with three and Trey Bucio and Austin Funderburg each had two.
Ray James led Xenia with 25 points, one of four Bucs in double figures. Rocky James added 17 points and five rebounds, Samari Curtis and Love each had 10 points and Naylor finished with eight.
The Bucs finished the game 32 for 56 (57 percent) from the field and 16 for 27 (59 percent) from the free throw line, while Troy was 25 for 45 (56 percent) from the field and 5 for 10 (50 percent) from the line. Troy did win on the glass 32-22, but Xenia forced 30 turnovers while only committing 10.
And while the end wasn’t what the Trojans would’ve liked, they finished the season playing their best basketball of the year — and won the most games the team has since the 2011-12 season. And though they graduate a host of seniors, a solid group of underclassmen was able to get experience and grow throughout the year.
“As the year went on, a lot of kids adapted, not just the seniors,” Bremigan said. “I thought we all got better as the year progressed. This is kind of a down note to go out on, and I would’ve liked to have played better. But we got beat by a good team.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.