TROY — Last year, Mississinawa Valley held a 27-point lead over the Troy Christian boys basketball team at one point before being forced to hold off a fierce rally late to escape with a four-point win.
James Anderson and the Eagles remembered.
“Yeah, I remembered that. Down by 27, we came back, brought it back to within two, a turnover at the end lost us the game,” the 6-foot-9 junior Troy Christian post said. “Thinking about that this year just fueled the fire and excited all the guys to play even harder tonight.”
And while the Eagles did have to rally again, trailing by as many as six early and by three at halftime, Troy Christian (6-3) took firm control with a 28-10 third quarter performance, led by yet another double-double from Anderson in a convincing 61-45 victory Friday night at the Eagles’ Nest — the team’s third straight win.
Anderson led all scorers with 25 points and added 16 rebounds, three assists and five blocked shots — his fourth straight double-double and eighth in nine games this year. He entered the night as the Metro Buckeye Conference’s leading scorer (22.5 points per game) and rebounder (13.9 per game).
“I’m not afraid to say it, I said it early in the year, but he has a chance to be player of the year in the conference — and right now, he’s living up to it,” Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadzki said. “Those are monster stats. And the great thing about James right now is that he’s consistent. He’s doing it night in and night out. As a coach, that’s the one thing you want out of people. James has really matured, and I’m so proud of him.”
“My teammates feed me and like to play through me,” Anderson said. “Basketball works better if it’s inside then out, and they all know that I’ll look for them in return.”
Early on, Anderson kept the Eagles in the game, almost completing his double-double before halftime. He had nine points in the first quarter, including back-to-back drive to the basket to erase what had been a 13-7 deficit and tie the score at 13-13 after one. The lead changed hands a total of 10 times in the first half, and Anderson had 15 points and eight rebounds by the break — but the Blackhawks held a tenuous 27-24 lead.
In the third quarter, though, everything else fell into place.
After the Eagles went 0 for the first half from 3-point range, Ben Schenk hit a 3 on the first possession to tie the score, then he found Seth Wynne on an inbounds play for another 3 to give Troy Christian a 30-29 lead — a lead the Eagles would not relinquish. An Anderson blocked shot led to a a fast break bucket by Schenk, then another block by Anderson led to a Jacob Brown layup.
“We were 0-for in the first half from 3 — but a lot of those 3s were rushed,” Zawadzki said. “Those 3s we shot (in the third) came out of ball reversal, side touches and in and out — and that’s the right 3. I was not surprised those went in, because they were the right ones.”
After a jumper by Mississinawa Valley’s Darin Miller cut Troy Christian’s lead to three at 36-33, the Eagles went on a 13-2 run to put the game out of reach, turning a series of Blackhawk turnovers into easy baskets in transition the other way. A three-point play by Anderson on a putback made the score 49-35, then Wynne hit Peyton Spurlock for a 3 at the buzzer to send the Eagles into the fourth quarter up 52-37.
“We just came out with more fire in the second half,” Anderson said. “We’ve been doing that all year for some reason. We came out (in the second half) and were more disciplined, took the better shots and played better on defense. We need to work on the rest of the game — I don’t know why we do it. I guess we just like having the first half interesting.”
Troy Christian’s biggest lead of the game came early in the fourth when a jumper by Wynne made it 57-37, and the Blackhawks never got closer than 15.
For the game, the Eagles had 16 assists as a team while committing 14 turnovers — a number that leapt out at Zawadzki.
“With this team, we’re striving for a positive assists-to-turnover ratio, and tonight is only the second time we’ve hit it,” he said. “It really was the second half that did it — that third quarter, where we had more than half our assists in that quarter. It shows the power of sharing the basketball. When you’re unselfish, you do the right thing, the team will be successful.
“This is two games in a row where the second half has been like that. Our goal now is to get them to do that for the full 32 minutes.”
Spurlock backed up Anderson’s night by tying a career high with 12 points, Schenk added nine points, four rebounds and four assists and Wynne had seven points and four rebounds. Cameron Strine added four points, Brown had two points, seven rebounds and seven steals and Joel Thomas had two points.
Miller led the Blackhawks with 20 points and five rebounds, Ethan Bowman had 14 points and six rebounds and Trent Perkins had seven points and seven rebounds.
Troy Christian returns to MBC play Monday, traveling to Emmanuel Christian to begin a tough week that includes matchups against Middletown Christian and Miami East.
“Our team is growing,” Zawadzki said. “The truth is, I don’t want to peak in early January. I want us to peak in late February, early March — and we’re on track to do that. We’ve won three straight now. This is a team that had us down 27 last year, so we see a lot of improvement.”
Mississinawa Valley plays host to Franklin Monroe on Tuesday.