Troy Christian rallied from down 11, riding the wave of momentum all the way to a 50-42 win over Northridge. The Eagles clamped down in the fourth quarter, allowing just two points in the final eight minutes.
By Alan Brads for Press Pros
Troy, OH – OK, what’s it take to be a champion?
You’ve gotta respond to adversity, play your best when the lights are brightest, and no matter what people say these days, you gotta play defense.
Troy Christian did all three of those things in a 50-42 comeback win over Northridge, and chances are they’ll be champions soon enough.
The 11th-ranked Eagles (14-2, 11-0) now hold a luxurious two game lead over second-place Northridge (10-7, 9-2) in the TRC. As long as they win two out of three against Lehman Catholic, Bethel and Covington, they’ll become the first undisputed champs of the Three Rivers Conference.
Frank Rupnik scored 15 in the revenge-avoiding victory, and Christian Brusman and Parker Penrod scored 13. Penrod picked up yet another accolade along the way, passing James Anderson as TC’s second all-time leading scorer.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Penrod said. “But I was more worried about getting the win today.”
At many moments there was plenty of cause for concern, but the boisterous Eagle faithful didn’t seem nervous based on the energy they brought.
“That was definitely the loudest game I’ve ever been in at this gym,” Penrod said. “When we took the lead with Alex Free’s layup, it gave me chills down my spine, and I usually don’t even hear the crowd.”
The crowd would be heard for four quarters, because it took the Eagles all four to battle their way back to victory.
Troy Christian threatened a blowout early, knocking down two 3-pointers on their first two possessions. but Northridge responded with deep balls of their own. The offensive explosion lasted the first eight minutes of the game, in which the teams combined for seven 3-pointers, dueling to a 16-14 Northridge lead.
Quarter two brought both the offenses to a screeching halt. They each had a scoring drought of about four minutes, but The Polar Bears’ strength came to the forefront late. Their quick hands finally started finding the basketball on defense, which quickly turned into offense, and a 10-0 run.
Troy Christian is no stranger to playing fast, but the athleticism and aggressiveness of Northridge’s defense knocked the Eagles off balance. No pass was safe, no matter how safe it seemed.
The Polar Bears’ aggressiveness could’ve backfired – really it should’ve backfired – as they committed 21 of the games 27 fouls. But early on Troy Christian returned the favor by shooting a woeful 3/10 from the free throw line in the first half.
That made the difference after a second quarter in which the Eagles made one solitary field goal, and the Polar Bears retained a 26-19 halftime lead.
“Northridge was able to impose their will in the first half,” TC Coach Ray Zawadzki said. “I sensed our kids doubted that we could impose our will and our philosophy. I told them now is an important time to grow together, depend on each other, trust each other, and stay focused on our gameplan. What is that? Well, I showed how the paint was wide open.”
The third quarter looked like a dam bursting.
First it was slow leaks. Rupnik started taking over the open paint his coach pointed out to chip at the lead. Then all at once the dam gave way with enough drama and emotion it could’ve been a soap opera.
Rupnik caught a pass in transition and Northridge’s Deonte Smith set up shop to take a charge. Rupnik, however, didn’t plow through him but went vertical and dropped in a layup. Smith took what contact occurred and fell on his back. The official didn’t bite and made no foul call.
The entire Northridge bench went ballistic and Head Coach Tyrone McConnell received a technical foul. Penrod exorcised the first half free throw demons and knocked down the pair.
The Eagles also received the ball for the technical foul, and scored yet again. Without Northridge so much as touching the basketball, Troy Christian had notched six points. It’s not often someone scores a touchdown in basketball, but when they do, it can swing things pretty hard.
The seismic shift on the scoreboard mirrored the emotional jolt of a sliced down lead, a T’d up coach, and a pause in the action for the removal of a Northridge fan. And while Troy Christian responded to the adversity of an 11-point deficit, Northridge never really pulled things back together after that series.
“We know each other and we trust each other,” Rupnik said. “So even when we’re down double digits we still are calm and can take it one possession at a time.”
The fourth quarter began 40-36 Northridge, but it felt like Troy Christian already held the lead. Rupnik scored his 15th point to knot it at 40, and yet again the roof threatened to blow.
A previously scoreless Alex Free came to life not a moment too soon, scoring six consecutive points to take the lead and then extend it to 46-40. He also collected a trifecta of critical defensive rebounds in the fourth.
The rattled Polar Bears couldn’t buy a basket with a million bucks in the fourth. Jumper after jumper, and even layups clanged off the iron. With efficient rebounding and long drawn out offensive possessions, the Eagles held Northridge to two points in the fourth quarter.
“Defensively I saw five guys working as one,” Zawadzki said.” Everybody always wants to score, not everybody wants to defend. It was good to see our guys want to defend.”
Even Northridge’s Smith and Dorryan Davis never found the basket in the fourth despite leading their team with 12 and 11 points.
“We just picked up our intensity,” Rupnik said. “We trust each other and know our defensive gameplan. We were just able to execute better than in the first half.”
Rupnik was arguably the linchpin of the comeback. His 15 points don’t come close to telling his whole story. His massive height advantage kept Northridge out of the paint, especially after he swatted his third block into the second row of the student section.
“Frank’s a key guy for us,” Zawadzki said. “He’s just an enforcer. He rejects passivity and pushes himself forward.”
Calling any conference game in February a foregone conclusion is risky business, but the Eagles will be heavy favorites against Bethel and Covington, who they beat by 33 points each already this season. Not to mention the Eagles are currently riding a 21-game conference winning streak. So barring an astonishing result there, the Eagles will claim an outright conference championship for the first time since their Metro Buckeye Conference days in 2018.
But they can’t get ahead of themselves with the celebrations, because their sledding will be anything but easy for the next week. They get Chaminade Julienne tomorrow, then Cedarville comes to town to put TC’s perfect home record to the test on Tuesday. Next Friday it’s Lehman Catholic, who no doubt will be as hungry for revenge as Northridge was. Then to cap it all off they travel to top-ranked Div. III Ottawa-Glandorf next Saturday.
“This is a tough stretch,” Penrod said. “But we’re doing it to challenge ourselves.”
So far they’ve been up to the challenge.