By Josh Brown
Miami Valley Today
TIPP CITY — Troy boys basketball coach Mark Hess wasn’t thinking about the division race, how his Trojans needed a win at Miami Valley League Miami Division leader Tippecanoe to stay in the hunt.
He didn’t even care about the tournament seeding implications heading into Sunday’s draw.
“For us, I just wanted us to get right,” he said. “I wanted us to play hard, to get back to playing with the confidence we had early in the year, and that’s what our focus was.”
And after back-to-back losses to Butler and Sidney, the Trojans found themselves in yet another battle Friday night at Tippecanoe High School, but this time Landyn Henry hit the go-ahead free throw with 52.6 seconds remaining and Troy got back-to-back stops defensively, with the Red Devils missing a 3-pointer and a putback try in the final five seconds as Troy escaped with a 46-45 MVL victory.
Troy, which entered the night three games back in the division standings with three division games left, improved to 11-8 overall — its most wins since posting 17 during the 2011-12 season — and 9-7 in the MVL Miami. And after dropping four of their last five, Hess was particularly happy to see his Trojans win the way they did.
“I don’t know if, early on in the year, we would have gotten two consecutive stops down the stretch like that to win a game like we did. I think tonight shows how far we’ve come,” Hess said. “We weren’t great defensively to start the year, but for us to sit down and get those two stops late shows how far we’ve come as a team. We weren’t great offensively down the stretch, but we stayed composed, stayed together and got those two big stops. That’s encouraging for us moving forward.
“For us to win defensively was exciting for me as a coach. I know the boys would rather score 80 points and win, but I’d rather get stops down the stretch.”
Tippecanoe — which played without point guard and leader Ben Knostman, who missed the game due to an illness — fell to 12-8 overall and 11-5 in the MVL Miami, having clinched at least a share of the division title already.
“I’m super proud of how we battled,” Tippecanoe coach Adam Toohey said. “In the first half, we were like ;you know what would be good right now? Our 6-foot-4 point guard. But without Knostman, it was a battle. Both teams battled back and forth.”
And while Troy was on fire to start the game, with Tre Archie hitting three first-quarter 3s and shooting the Trojans out to a 20-11 lead after one, the shots didn’t continue falling — and Tippecanoe chipped away at the lead, turning a 27-15 halftime deficit into a 34-29 one heading into the fourth.
“They scored 20 in the first quarter and hit four 3s. That’s hard to sustain,” Toohey said. “Then we started getting stops. We gave up 26 in the next three, so it was just about executing and scoring. And we didn’t execute to end the game the way we wanted to.”
But after Tippecanoe’s Nick Robbins hit a game-tying 3 to even things up at 42-42 with 3:15 to play, Troy’s Elijah Reynolds answered with a huge 3 to put the Trojans back on top. But a Gavin Garlitz layup and free throw by Nolan Mader — who earlier converted a four-point play to help the Devils get back into the game — tied the score again at 45-45 with 1:36 to play.
“That’s what a team win is about,” Hess said. “Tippecanoe obviously made it a point to take Shaeden (Olden) away, and we had some guys really step up in their roles. I thought Austin (Stanaford) made some nice plays in the third quarter, Landyn made some plays late, and Elijah hit a big 3 late. It’s good for them to be in those big moments and grow.”
And with less than a minute to go, Henry got his moment.
Henry drove the baseline and drew a foul on a shot, putting him face to face with the Devils’ raucous student section. He missed the first free throw and, with the crowd even louder, nailed the second one to put Troy back up by one.
“No, it’s not even close,” Henry said when asked if he had ever made a bigger free throw. “I was just trying to think of my routine and just shoot the free throw. That’s it.”
Tippecanoe missed a shot in the paint but got back in transition and kept the Trojans from sealing it with a fast break, but a missed front end of a one-and-one cost the Devils another chance to take the lead. The Devils forced a turnover with 15.4 seconds remaining and called timeout with 8.8 seconds on the clock to set up one final play — but the Trojans were able to contest Tippecanoe’s look at a 3-pointer, and the tip-in try after the miss was off the mark, as well, as Olden grabbed the rebound and wrapped up the ball to seal the win.
“I’m proud of the effort, and it (stinks) to lose like that, but we had three different chances at it,” Toohey said. “We had a one-and-one, we drew one up and didn’t get it right, we drew another one up, got a look at a 3 and a tip-in look. We were right there. That’s all you want is a chance.”
Zach Frederick led all scorers with 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Devils, Nolan Mader added 15 points and six rebounds, Garlitz finished with eight points and Robbins had six points.
Archie scored all 11 of his points in the first half to lead Troy and added seven rebounds, Henry finished with nine points, Olden had eight points and six rebounds, Stanaford had six points, three rebounds and three assists, Jaden Owens had six points, Reynolds had four points and Andrew Holley had two points and four rebounds.
Tippecanoe has two tough league games remaining — at overall MVL champion Sidney Tuesday and at home against Butler on Feb. 14 to close out the regular season. Troy, meanwhile, travels to Celina Saturday night for a non-league game to lead into the final week.
“My life expectancy went down about five years, man,” Hess said with a laugh. “They did a good job of making those plays tonight — and now it’s back to work tomorrow at Celina. But I’m excited about what the boys did tonight.”
Contact Josh Brown at [email protected], or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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