A cold start against a fired-up defense…and red-hot role player dooms Troy Christian’s chances in the Division IV sectional final.
Troy – The first minute, 13 seconds of the Division IV Troy upper bracket sectional final on Friday night belonged to Troy Christian.
The final 30 minutes, 47 seconds? Well, that was all Tri-Village in a dominating display of teamwork, transition offense and tenacity on the boards.
The Patriots reached this same spot in 2016, which ended in a one-point loss to Yellow Springs in the final 10 seconds. The only drama this time around came in the opening two minutes. Troy Christian led 2-0 on a pair of James Anderson free throws. By the time the Eagles scored again – nearly 12:10 later – the Patriots had them in an insurmountable 24-2 deficit.
“I would say no,” Tri-Village senior guard Jonny Wilson said of anticipating the final score, a 52-21 Patriots’ victory. “They’re obviously a really good team. They have some guys that score and the Anderson kid is just going to continue to get better. Defense was a big factor tonight.”
Led by the early efforts of 6-foot, 6-inch senior forward Trace Couch, the Patriots collapsed on Anderson, a physical 6-8 junior forward who was averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds per game. Anderson finished with a season-low on Friday.
“I was hoping we could keep him between 10-14 points,” Tri-Village coach Josh Sagester said. “I didn’t know if we could get that accomplished but our kids played great team defense surrounding him and keeping him off the boards.”
Anderson’s free throws with 6:47 to play in the first quarter gave the Eagles a 2-0 lead. They didn’t score again until sophomore Connor Case knocked down a 3-pointer with 2:37 left before halftime.
“I would to,” Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadzki Jr. said of Tri-Village’s defensive plan to surround Anderson and force other Eagles to step up. “James is a force inside. If you can limit his touches like they tried to do, you can have success against us. Give Tri-Village a lot of credit. They’re well coached and they have a lot of basketball IQ over there. And a lot of talent. Jonny Wilson was special tonight. When their role players are hurting you, you know you’re in trouble.”
The Patriots (18-7) sagged their defense on Anderson down low, daring the Eagles to hoist practically uncontested shots from behind the three-point line. Troy Christian (17-8) obliged, but missed its first 10 shots. The Eagles shot 7-of-27 overall (25 percent).
“It’s been one of our struggles all year,” Zawadzki said. “I wanted the kids to play fearless so we took some shots that just didn’t go in the basket. You gotta put the ball in the hole if you’re going to compete with a team like Tri-Village.”
Wilson had no idea of knowing it at the time, but his 3-pointer with 5:30 left in the first quarter gave Tri-Village the lead for good at 3-2. Wilson’s team-high 15 points nearly doubled up his scoring output from Tri-Village’s first two tournament games of eight and six points.
“The first one I kind of threw it up and said if it goes in you’re going to have a great night. If not, we’ll see how it goes,” he said.
He opened the third quarter with 3-pointer and drained his third trey a couple minutes later.
“When you come out and hit your first shot it’s obviously a good way to get your night rolling,” Wilson said. “The guys did a great job finding me and getting me good shots. Coach does a great job preparing us through the week. I spent a lot of time in the gym getting shots up and it’s starting to pay off.”
Couch added 14 points and senior guard Gavin Richards chipped in 11 for the Patriots.
“Our supporting cast continues to get better and better and better,” Sagester said. “I think you saw that tonight with Jonny Wilson making some offensive plays for us and (junior Jared) Buckley making some offensive plays for us. If we can continue to get that cushion from some other guys I think offensively we have a chance to be pretty good.”
Unofficially, Tri-Village shot 21-of-37 from the field (56 percent). The Patriots didn’t miss much. But when they did, they were often there to clean up. They outrebounded the Eagles 23-6.
“We didn’t want to run with them,” Zawadzki said. “We took some first-pass shots. … Kids got a little deer in the headlights look and thought, ‘Wow, they’re not guarding me’ so they let it fly. It turned into transition points (for Tri-Village). We were supposed to make eight passes, break them down and get the look we wanted. I wanted James to touch the ball every possession. As you can see we didn’t do a good job of that.”
Tri-Village’s largest lead came at 48-15 with 6:06 left in the fourth quarter when Couch stole a pass, then elevated just enough to throw down a dunk. It capped a personal 6-0 run that saw him sink two free throws and score off an offensive rebound, too.
Tri-Village advances to play Jackson Center for a D-IV district championship 9:30 p.m. Friday at the University of Dayton Arena. Jackson Center beat Fairlawn 44-41 on Friday.
For Tri-Village, it’s their first district appearance since winning state in 2015. That’s as far as Sagester wants to go with any comparisons to that team. For now.
“That’s a little bit away. We do have some of the same ingredients with some perimeter and post presence,” he said. “We’re trying to get better every day. I’m real happy for those kids. … “Our kids were kind of on a mission today to win the sectional final and get back to UD Arena and play for a district championship.”
Added Wilson: “For us, every year the goal is to get back to state. As the tournament starts getting further along and we keep winning games … maybe there’s talk around the town. We try to shut that out and focus on what we need to do.”