Yaqub, Linton, Persinger and Funderburg come up big in the second half to lead Troy to a season split with arch-rival Piqua.
Troy – It will surprise many to learn that the Piqua-Troy basketball rivalry is quite lopsided.
Unlike the gridiron series, which Piqua leads by a game after 127 meetings, the Trojans had beaten the Indians 21 of the last 29 meetings heading into Fridays’ season finale at the Trojan Activity Center.
In fact, Piqua’s 65-51 win last month gave the Indians just their fourth chance to sweep the season series since 1999-2000.
On Senior night, the Troy Trojans were having none of it.
Senior Romello Yaqub scored a team high 21 points, senior Mechia Linton added 11, and senior Austin Persinger scored 6 points during a big third quarter that led the Trojans to a 55-50 win over the Indians, the Trojans fourth win in five games to close the season.
“We have come a long way over the past 10 games,” smiled Troy coach Paul Bremigan after his first Trojan squad finished the regular season 8-14. “We’ve played 10 games in the last 25 days, and have really come together. We have had more leadership, and that’s led to more teamwork and guys rooting for each other. They are starting to see what can happen.”
Piqua never really got going offensively. The Indians missed their first 7 shots and went six minutes and 35 seconds without a field goal before Colton Bachman finally found the mark.
“We just never really found a rhythm,” agreed Piqua coach Heath Butler after falling to 3-7 against the Trojans. “I thought we played all right defensively, but Troy really committed to the little things in the second half, and that was the difference.”
“Our seniors were fired up to play Piqua in their final home game,” acknowledged Bremigan. “Who else would you want to play tonight but your biggest rival? We were a little out-of-sync sometimes in the first half. But they hung in there, played good defense, and I thought we really played well in the second half.”
The Indians finally got into gear in the second quarter. Piqua hit four three-pointers in the quarter, and made 7 of ten shots overall in the period for a 27-22 halftime lead.
How miserable was it for the Indians the rest of the night? How does 8 of 40 grab you? An almost-as-cold-as-the-weather 20% for the 1st, 3rd and 4th quarters, including an almost hard to believe 2 for 23 from behind the arc.
“Sometimes you just get into that funk,” Butler said of shooting three-pointers. “They were good shots, and we have four guys who shoot 35% from the arc, so you feel good when they do shoot it. When you shoot them, you have to really crash the boards and get some second chance opportunities. Troy did a nice job of taking that away, especially in the second half.”
The Trojans turned up the heat coming out of the locker-room, and Piqua simply could not respond. Yaqub hit a pair of threes, Persinger contributed his three buckets, and Austin Funderburg hit a couple of shots from the paint as Troy out-scored Piqua 23-9 over the first 11 minutes of the second half.
The 6-4 Persinger, one of the Trojan seniors who didn’t start because, well, you can’t start eight guys, was smiling afterward.
“It was a great team win. We are really playing well together. Everybody had an impact on the game. We did the little things that help you win games.”
Bremigan praised the Trojans’ team effort.
“It’s the second game in a row our bigs, Linton, Persinger and Funderburg, have played well, and the kids did a nice job of getting them the ball. Trey Bucio did a nice job coming off the bench, and Ryan McClurg is turning into the kind of shooter that you can’t ignore.
The Indians’ leading scorer, Colton Bachman, was held to 8 points over the first three quarters before coming alive in the fourth. The 6-4 senior scored 13 of his team high 21 points in the final eight minutes, but the Indians managed just one other basket in the quarter and fell to 12-10 on the season.
Derrick Gullett added 13 for Piqua, but Bradley Hohlbein, the Indians second leading scorer on the season, scored just 2.
“We did a great job on Hohlbein, who I really think makes them go,” Bremigan explained. “We kept Bachman under wraps for three quarters. I think the way we rotated people in allowed us to wear them down a little bit in the second half.”
The Trojans have beaten Miami East, Sidney and now Piqua in the last two weeks. Persinger said that is a result of the team coming together.
“We just are really playing hard. Every game, every quarter, every practice. We seniors know how important it is because time is running out. We are pushing every day. We want to win, and maybe even more, we are tired of losing.”
Piqua finished at 30% from the field (15 of 50) and 6 of 29 from behind the arc for 21%. Troy was 21 of 48 from the floor for 44% and 4 of 13 from three-point range for 31%.
The Indians did hit 12 of 15 from the line for 80% to Troy’s 9 of 16 for 56%. All nine of the Trojans made free throws came in the fourth quarter.
Troy out-rebounded the Indians 29-27 and had 13 turnovers to the Indians 10.
“This is disappointing because of the rivalry,” Butler said before heading for the bus. “We have been resilient all year, and usually have bounced back and played well. Piqua hasn’t won a tournament game in quite a while (2007) so there is some motivation there. Back-to-back-to back winning seasons for the first time since 1985, 86 and 87 points to where the program is at. It’s not the way we wanted the season to end, but we know that there is a lot more in front of us.”
“I’ll admit, this one feels pretty good,” said Bremigan, nodding his head. “Sidney felt good (a 55-54 win Tuesday night) and so does this one. It’s good to see the kids happy and bouncing around like they were after the game.”
Piqua will open tournament play Feb. 20 against Beavercreek at Trotwood, while the Trojans open post-season play Friday night against Xenia at Vandalia.
“We scrimmaged Xenia before the season,” Persinger informed. “We played really well against them. So we have momentum and a lot of confidence heading into the tournament.”
Bremigan is obviously enjoying the new challenge at Troy after 35 years and more than 400 wins at Russia. Leaning back in the chair in his office, he shared that were some rocky moments early on.
“When I first met the kids in June, they didn’t know what to think of me and I didn’t know what to think of them. There were moments when I wasn’t very happy and they knew I wasn’t very happy. But I wasn’t going to change. I know what works. I told them, I have been on this earth 59 years and you are going to have to adapt to me. And you have about a month or less to do it. I’m sure there were nights when they thought they had a crazy old man coaching their team. To their credit, they have bought in to what we want to do, the younger kids have stepped up and you can see the results over the past month.”
(Edited By Julie McMaken Wright)