Troy Christian started fast and never looked back as they cruised to a 54-37 win over Lehman Catholic. Parker Penrod scored 11 points in the first quarter on his way to a 19-point night.
Troy, Oh – Troy Christian left no doubt in front of a jam-packed crowd with an explosive first half, bounding to a 33-15 halftime lead that became a 54-37 victory over Lehman Catholic.
The Eagles, 7-1 on the year and a perfect 6-0 in conference play, now hold a commanding lead of the Three Rivers Conference. They’ve split the title the past two years with Miami East in 2023 and Miami East and Milton Union in 2022.
With wins over Northridge, Miami East, and now Lehman Catholic, they’re poised to claim the first outright boys’ basketball championship of the Three Rivers Conference, but that’s February talk, there’s plenty of basketball yet to play.
“We had a tough loss against Russia, but every time we lose a game there’s a spark that’s lit in the locker room and on the practice floor,” said senior guard Parker Penrod who led all players with 19 points.
That spark quickly became flame as Penrod wasted no time in proving himself yet again to be one of the best guards in the area. Penrod dropped 14 points in the first half, mostly on jumpers that could’ve been magnetized toward the middle of the hoop based on their pinpoint accuracy, but also slicing into the lane when defenders closed out overzealously.
“Parker’s the most important person on our team,” Troy Christian Head Coach Ray Zawadzki said. “And it isn’t just because he can get buckets, it’s his ability to break defenses down, and lead in ways people don’t see. He doesn’t take a day off, he doesn’t take a play off, and he pushes everybody to get better.”
He teamed up with fellow senior guard Alex Free to score the first nine points of the game in under four minutes.
“Coming in I had a lot of confidence in myself that I can knock down shots,” Penrod said. “I’m just glad I have teammates that trust me to make those shots and find me on those open looks.”
Their trust is not misplaced.
As Penrod and Free took care of business early offensively, aided by Troy Christian’s staple of ball movement, everyone pitched in more than their fair share on the defensive end. The first five minutes were nothing short of a defensive masterclass from the Eagles, shutting out the Cavaliers, and doing so without fouling once on defense.
Every Eagle defender played with electrifying energy, but did so calmly and intentionally, forcing Lehman to speed up and play at Troy Christian’s pace.
“Our energy was very high early, and I thought we were on point with our defensive gameplan,” Zawadzki said. “We wanted to apply pressure and speed them up. When they’re able to control things they’re very good, so we didn’t want them to be comfortable.”
The Cavaliers hold the title of best 3-point shooting team in the Three Rivers Conference by the numbers, but didn’t knock down a single shot from deep in the first half. Troy Christian’s man-to-man defense repeatedly linked together possessions without allowing one good look at the basket within 25 feet, too deep even for a great shooting team like Lehman.
Lehman turned to the TRC’s third-leading scorer, Donovan O’Leary, desperate for buckets, and finally got some late in the first quarter. But just as he gave the Cavaliers life, Penrod knocked down a deep triple as time expired in his 11-point first quarter.
“We knew their offense runs through O’Leary,” said Free, who shared time guarding O’Leary with 6’7” forward Frank Rupnik. “So we knew how much taking him away would hurt them.”
The pace on that side of the ball didn’t slow down in the second half, despite a 33-15 Troy Christian lead. Rather than packing it in and forcing Lehman to be slow, methodical and patient to get open looks, the Eagles sustained high pressure sourced from high energy. Pressure turned into turnovers which became easy points.
After Penrod’s 14-point first half and Free’s 9, they shared the wealth more in the second half. They once again tapped into the rapid yet precise ball movement that comes both with Troy Christian basketball and having seven seniors who have played together long enough to max out their chemistry.
“We’re an equal opportunity offense,” Zawadzki said. “And to be that you gotta have precise ball movement, cuts and timing.”
The Troy Christian offense slowed the pace more in the fourth quarter, nursing a lead that never dropped below 15 despite Lehman’s improved shooting in the second half, featuring four made 3-pointers.
By the end, Penrod racked up 19, an above average night even for the TRC’s leading scorer, Free scored 11, Christian Brusman scored nine, and Rupnik eight.
Lehman struggled to diversify their offense in the face of the stout Eagle defense, and only four players found the hoop all night.
O’Leary led the way with 16, followed by Shane Frantz for nine, Da’Ron Pride for seven and Turney Lachey with five.
Despite the unfortunate outcome for Lehman, it’s far from time to hit the panic button. They had a rough shooting night, as did the 2016 Golden State Warriors, and every other team ever. In a conference sharply divided into two halves, they’re still comfortably within the more competitive half.
“Like all games you gotta go back to what our strengths are,” Lehman head coach Pat Carlisle said. “We’ll go back to that tomorrow and start working on our next opponent, and hopefully over the course of a long season we have more good nights than nights like tonight.”
The Cavaliers get the weekend to recover before traveling to Mississinawa Valley on Tuesday.
The Eagles won’t have to wait long for their next big showdown as they travel Saturday, January 6, to Jackson Center, who have won six of their last seven, including trouncing Houston on Friday. Troy Christian’s lone loss came from the SCAL in a 25-point defeat by Russia.
The conference foes meet again in February, but both coaches kept the focus on their upcoming games rather than the distant future. But the rest of us can’t help but think about what a rematch at Lehman might look like.
The law of averages says Lehman will likely shoot much better, and Penrod might miss a few more … advantage Cavaliers. But Troy Christian’s elite defense and disciplined ball movement aren’t accidents or lightning in a bottle.
I’ll leave you to either draw your own conclusions … or just wait and see.