Troy Christian pulled the shocker of the day at Ottawa-Glandorf, beating the #2-ranked Titans by eleven points and raising eyebrows all over Division IV basketball.
Ottawa, OH – In the fourth and final game of the Ottawa-Glandorf’s mid-winter classic tournament Saturday, Ray Zawadzki’s Troy Christian Eagles sent a message, and again stunned an unexpectant crowd by outplaying host Ottawa-Glandorf, 61-50, the #2 team in Ohio Division III basketball, with Ohio State recruit Colin White.
The Eagles won their 18th game of the season (18-2, Max Preps) in such a thoroughly convincing fashion, that many of the partisan packed house began to head for the parking lot with two minutes left in the fourth quarter and Ottawa-Glandorf still within striking distance, trailing by ten points.
Many of that same crowd had the Titans as 20 to 25-point favorites in pre-game conversations in the concession lines…and some questioned why all the fuss about Eagles guard Parker Penrod, all 5’8″ and 160 pounds of him. An hour later the hot dogs had lost their savor, and Penrod, Christian Brusman, Frank Rupnik, and Alex Free had totally ruined what was left of people’s appetite. The four combined for 59 of TC’s total of 61 points…and Brusman (11), Penrod (18), and Free (18) each hit the final shot of the first, second, and third quarters, respectively, which further served to twist the knife in the Titans’ frustrations.
It was the Eagles’ second win in the span of a week over schools bigger than them – Chaminade Julienne (Div. II) and Ottawa-Glandorf (Div. III) – and it raised eyebrows among partisans and media alike who asked afterwards, “Who are these guys, and how did they lose to Russia and Tri-Village?”
The easy answer, of course, is that Troy Christian was a different team when they played Russia and Tri-Village, meaning they didn’t play very well.
The even-more-obvious answer was delivered by Ray Zawadzki, who later said, “This is how much we’ve improved. This is how much these guys have bought in. This is how much they believe in each other now.”
Unimpressively, they fell behind immediately on a pair of OG three-pointers by Caden Erford. But just as quick, trailing 8-2, Parker Penrod enlightened some of his questioners by snapping down a pair of three-pointers of his own from opposite wings.
It set off a feeding frenzy with the Eagles, whose confidence and energy spiked as if they’d taken a giant syringe of B12. Penrod was everywhere on the court, shooting, scoring, and finding other open shooters. He finished with 10 points in the eight minutes, Alex Free had 4, and Christian Brusman had 5, including a shot at the buzzer from beyond the time line that bulls-eyed the rim.
The question was…did he get it off in time, as it appeared the clock struck 0:00 before the ball left his hand. But the red lights on the backboard didn’t light up until the ball was out of his hand and the shot counted. Troy Christian led, 19-15…and they would never trail again!
If shots were going down for the Eagles, they were finding ways not to go down for the Titans. Colin White was getting some open looks…because he’s that good, and good enough to create shots with his size and experience. But after scoring 7 in the first quarter, his shot suddenly dried up in the second. OG would score 10 on a pair of offensive rebounds and shots from around the rim, but the three-point line had quickly turned cold.
However, their full-court pressure kinda’ stymied Troy Christian, who still managed to match OG’s 10 points for the quarter, and took that four-point margin into the halftime locker room, leading 29-25.
“I wasn’t surprised at how well we played,” said Zawadzki, afterwards. “Because our kids have been playing better every day. You can see how we have this thing rolling, 8 games in the last 14 days, and 7 of those teams with impressive winning records. So no, I wasn’t surprised at how we started and how well we played.”
Nor was he surprised at the start of the third quarter when suddenly 6’7″ senior Frank Rupnik took on the leading role as primary scorer. Rupnik exploded for 8 quick points as OG found a way to put the clamps on Penrod, who scored 2 for the quarter. But playing with the lead, it allowed the Eagles to spread the court, create more room for the diminutive Penrod to operate, and he began to find Alex Free alone in the paint. Free caught fire to score over and around White and company for six points.
White would score 7 in the quarter, but Rupnik and Free scored 14, and the Eagles upped their margin to six by the start of the fourth quarter, 45-39.
Here’s how good Ottawa-Glandorf is. In each of the past two state tournaments they knocked off a favored Africentric team with Dailyn Swain – once in overtime – and simply wore Africentric down both times, mentally and physically. The Titans never seem to go away, regardless of the size of deficit.
But they couldn’t do it Saturday night against Troy Christian, despite guard Grady Toumazos opening the fourth with a pair of long three-pointers. That’s the death knell for an upset bid for a lot of teams. But this time, it had the opposite effect on Penrod, Rupnik, and Free.
OG upped the defensive pressure, full-court on Brusman and Penrod, but all that did was further spread the floor…where Penrod twice found Alex Free wide open for attacking drives to the rim. Rupnik scored. Brusman scored. Ethan Grise scored off the bench. And just as impressively, good teams always hit clutch free throws. Penrod hit a pair. Brusman hit a pair. Free hit a pair. In fact, TC was 10 for 10 from the line for the game! They never missed.
They finished in a flurry, scoring 16 points in the final eight minutes, while OG could only answer with Toumazos’s pair of three-pointers and a late bomb from the top of the key by White. Rupnik further added insult by blocking White at the rim, as finally the clock and frustration both ran out on the Titans.
Penrod and Free both had 18 for Troy Christian, Rupnik had 12, and Brusman finsihed with 11. The only other points were the two by Ethan Grise off the bench.
For OG (16-3), White would have been good on any other day, but not nearly good enough on this one. He finished with 17, Caden Erford had 10, Toumazos had 8, Alex Wagner had 6, and Grant Schroeder had 5 to top the Titans’ total of 50 points.
Penrod, despite those who hadn’t seen him at his best, was expectedly good. But the difference in the game was the contributions of Rupnik and Free.
“Alex has gone through a transformation now,” said Zawadzki. “When he came out of soccer, and that’s his sport, he didn’t have his legs and his basketball mind. Now he has those and we go as Alex goes. The more aggressive he is the better this team is. We tell him all the time…attack, attack, and attack some more. He can defend, he can get to the rim, and he can make good decisions.
“And Frank is our youngest senior on the team and it’s just been fun to see him grow and develop. He’s got a 4.5 GPA and all you have to do is tell him things on the fly and he’ll make the adjustments. He came up huge for us in that second half tonight.”
Penrod smiled at the mention of his being questioned before the game.
“We did it with a team effort,” he smiled. “I mean, I did my part, Alex did his part, Frank and every single player on the team did what they needed to do. They’re the #2 team in Division III, so this was a huge statement win for us. Colin White is such a great player and an Ohio State recruit, it was cool to play against him. They can shoot the lights out, but we did a great job of making them take tough shots, and we did a good job on the glass.”
And Alex Free would rather play than talk. But even he was impressed with the magnitude of playing as well as the Eagles had played against a ranked opponent before a hostile crowd.
“We expected it to be a tough game. But we did it as a team effort,” he said quietly.
“We had worked a lot on playing against pressure, because they press a lot, but every time they did we would pop a guy open and get to the rim. That was a huge part of how we played. We support each other a lot on the court, and we hang out together off the court. I don’t think we could have done it better. We got the ‘W’, everybody played good. I think we did a pretty good job.”
Not surprising, the gym emptied rapidly.
“What an ugly scoreboard,” said a man carrying his folding bleacher seat, taking one last look as he walked out the door. “Turns out they (Troy Christian) were a really good team.”
The exact impression that Parker Penrod, Alex Free, Christian Brusman and Frank Rupnik wanted to make on Saturday.
The exact impression they want to make going forward…once the word gets out.