By Rob Kiser
It was a night of firsts — and collecting hardware — for the Troy Christian boys basketball team in Garbry Gymnasium Friday night.
The Eagles survived a frantic comeback by Piqua and held on for a 60-58 victory in the championship game of the WPTW Holiday Classic.
“We love coming and playing in this tournament,” Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadzki said. “This is the first time we have won the tournament (in three years playing in it). Piqua is the first Division I team we have ever played, so this is the first win over a Division I school for our program. I am really proud of our kids.”
And 6-foot-9 senior James Anderson stood tall from the start, making 14 of 21 shots, scoring 30 points and pulling down seven rebounds. Anderson finished the two-game tournament with 51 points and fittingly was named MVP.
Troy Christian, which improved to 6-2, also had Cameron Strine named to the all-tournament team, while Trent Huelskamp was the WPTW scholarship winner. For Piqua (3-5), Devon Brown was named to the all-tournament team and Ben Schmiesing was the WPTW scholarship winner.
“James (Anderson) is a big guy in there,” Zawadzki said. “He was going up against a Division I college football player, and he stepped up the challenge. I thought one of the keys was our entry passes. We didn’t have a single turnover entering the ball to him, and I am really proud of that.”
Piqua coach Steve Grasso would agree.
“We knew he (James Anderson) would be a load,” Grasso said. “The idea was use some traps and different things to make the passes into him difficult. And we just didn’t do a good enough job of that. But we knew what he could do. I don’t think that (his 30 points) was the difference in the game.”
Anderson scored 15 in each half, but Piqua was able to stay close in the opening half, trailing 10-8 after one quarter and 25-23 at the break.
But the Eagles opened a 45-38 lead after the third quarter and led by 8-10 points most of the fourth quarter.
But when Hayden Schrubb and Schmiesing hit consecutive 3-pointers, the Indians were suddenly within 56-52 with 2:18 to go.
“It is amazing what happens when shots go in,” Grasso said.
Zawadzki said it was good learning experience for his team.
“That was kind of a life lesson,” Zawadzki said. “We were doing everything we wanted to do to control the game. We had a 10-point lead with three minutes to go. But you let up a little on defense and have a couple turnovers … but give Piqua credit. They hit some great shots in that run.”
Schmiesing scored with just under 30 seconds to go to make it 58-56.
Troy Christian’s Strine was fouled with 20.8 seconds to go and calmly hit two free throws with 20.8 seconds to go to give the Eagles a 60-56 lead.
“Two huge free throws by Cameron (Strine),” Zawadzki said. “He his our best free throw shooter, and those were big.”
By the time Schmiesing scored on a rebound for the final margin, there were just 4.8 seconds left.
Troy Christian’s Chace Varvel got free on the in-bounds play and was fouled with 1.3 seconds to go.
While he missed the free throw, Piqua’s desperation shot was off the mark.
“We didn’t lose that game in that last segment,” Grasso said. “We won that last segment. Troy Christian is an outstanding team, and there is no shame in losing to them.”
Strine added 13 points for the Eagles.
Schmiesing had 15 points and 16 rebounds for a double-double.
Qurri Tucker added 12 points and Devon Brown and Mick Karn both scored 10.
Karn and Cory Cottrell’s play (six points) off the bench were a highlight for Piqua.
“Mick (Karn) has been working hard to come back from an injury,” Grasso said. “And Cory (Cottrell) is just all hustle.”
Piqua was 23 of 53 from the floor for 43 percent and five of nine from the for 56 percent, while Troy Christian was 27 of 51 from the floor for 53 percent and five of 11 from the line for 45 percent.
The Indians won the battle of the boards 33-20, but had 12 turnovers to the Eagles eight.
Piqua returns to action Friday at Trotwood-Madison in GWOC American action — after coming up just short to a championship performance from Troy Christian. The Eagles, meanwhile, host Yellow Springs Friday.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.