By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
VANDALIA — Both teams spent their time in the locker room after Friday night’s game focusing on the silver linings, even if the mood seemed as if both had lost.
The young and inexperienced Troy boys basketball team, facing the second of last year’s Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division co-champions in the past week, proved to themselves that they could compete with a veteran and talented team like the Aviators, battling back from a 16-point halftime deficit to close to within five points in the fourth quarter — but the undefeated Aviators were able to hold on to close out a hard-fought 58-50 victory Friday night at Butler’s Student Activities Center.
Even though they weren’t satisfied with the loss, the performance left the Trojans (1-2, 1-2 GWOC American North) with hope.
“We saw a lot of heart tonight,” Troy coach Paul Bremigan said. “The kids played hard, and hopefully, even though we lost, it will give them some confidence. The kids know they can play with a team like this, and that was good to see.”
It was an especially enlightening game for the team given the previous week’s 19-point loss to Sidney, where the Trojans fell behind by 15 in the game’s first four minutes and were never able to close the gap.
“I was really disappointed in our effort against Sidney,” Bremigan said. “We pointed some things out on film that were just unacceptable, and the kids responded. It was a pretty ugly film session last Saturday, and the kids responded pretty well. A lot of times whenever you don’t play hard, you want to play as soon as possible — but we had a week to stew on that. And even though we didn’t really play the greatest first half tonight, we adjusted in the second half.”
For Butler, which improved to 6-0 and 3-0 in the GWOC American North — a run that has included road wins against strong Wayne and Northmont teams — the mood was decidedly downtrodden despite the win.
“For a 6-0 team, we have some real work to do in getting everyone to buy in and embrace the excitement of being part of a 6-0 team,” Butler coach DJ Wyrick said. “We still have guys trying to figure out where they fit in with our team and our system, and that needs to be resolved quickly. We need to buy in a little more as a team — it just doesn’t feel like we are 6-0 right now.
“In the Wayne and Northmont games, we played to win. In these games where we get a big lead early, we kind of lose sight of that, and that needs to be corrected immediately if we are going to continue to win games like this.”
Friday night, Butler hit five 3-pointers in the first half — with three of them coming from Cooper Justice — turning a 13-9 lead after one quarter into a commanding 32-16 halftime lead. Justice scored 13 of his game-high 18 points to help stake the Aviators out to the big lead.
But that’s when things changed.
“We got out to that big lead, the place was rocking, and then we started doing things we don’t do — uncharacteristic things that are going to cost us close games,” Wyrick said. “You have to give Troy credit for continuing to claw back and fight, but we gave them 29 extra possessions with 16 turnovers and 13 offensive rebounds. We didn’t execute at all late. It was frustrating.”
The Aviators led by as many as 17 early in the second half, but the Trojans connected on four third-quarter 3s, including one by Caillou Monroe that cut the lead to single digits at 36-29 midway through the quarter. But Michael Kreill hit back-to-back 3s and Justice hit another one late in the quarter to build the lead back to 15 at 47-32 heading into the final quarter.
Still, Troy refused to go away.
Butler couldn’t capitalize on a technical foul early in the fourth, and Troy cut the lead to single digits again at 48-39 on another 3 by Monroe. An intentional foul in transition on the Trojans allowed the Aviators to momentarily recapture momentum and take a 12-point lead with 4:32 remaining, but a free throw by Austin Stanaford and a fadeaway jumper by Jayden Owens cut it to nine again at 51-42. A score by Bryant Johnson got the lead back to 11, but that was the last time it was double digits.
After Butler missed a pair of free throws — a trend in the fourth — a drive by Brayden Siler made the score 53-45 with two minutes to play. The Aviators missed another set of free throws, and Owens converted a three-point play to slash the deficit to five at 53-48 with 58.3 seconds on the clock.
“I was happy with our aggressiveness in the second half,” Bremigan said. “I thought our kids battled the whole way. We got really good play from our bench — Jayden Owens came off the bench and did a nice job, made some nice plays. We just didn’t rebound in the first half. I was a little disappointed with our effort in the first half, but the second half was much better, and that was good to see.”
In the end, though, Ryan Wertz and Justice both hit a pair of free throws to get the lead back to 57-48, enough to bleed out the game’s final minute.
“We had some serious mistakes, scouting report mistakes, and lost discipline,” Wyrick said. “When we needed to be a little more disciplined, we played sloppy. We just have to play better.”
Justice had 18 points and nine rebounds to lead the Aviators, Kreill scored 15 points and Johnson had eight points and eight rebounds as Butler won the battle of the boards 35-30. Braedon Norman added seven points, Wertz scored four points, Tyler Montague had three points, Quentin Glover scored two and Matt Beverly chipped in one.
Owens led the Trojans with 12 points off the bench and had two steals, Monroe finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, Caleb Fogarty had nine points and Siler had eight points. Austin Stanaford had five points, 14 rebounds and three steals and Tre’Vone Archie had five points and three steals as Troy forced 23 turnovers while committing only 20 on the night and was 6 for 9 (66.7 percent) from the free throw line — while Butler was 14 for 31 (45 percent).
“That’s part of the game, part of holding the lead,” Bremigan said. “That happens to everyone. It’s just the way it goes.
“We showed a lot of heart tonight, and that’s good to see. We’ve got two big games next week.”
Both teams finish the first run through division play this week. Butler hosts last year’s other GWOC American North co-champion Sidney Tuesday and travels to Tippecanoe Friday, while the Trojans play at Tippecanoe Tuesday and host rival Piqua Friday.
The Vandalia Drummer’s Darrell Wacker contributed to this report.
Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.