By Josh Brown
TROY — In the end, sharing the load made the difference.
Even in the face of an outstanding individual effort.
The Troy boys basketball not only survived a 3-point assault by Fairborn’s Brendan Lilly, it fought all the way back from a 13-point deficit to turn the game into a back-and-forth war in the fourth quarter. But after Romello Yaqub hit the go-ahead basket for the Trojans with 8.5 seconds left, Lilly simply didn’t have one more big shot left in him as Troy’s defense forced a miss on an 18-foot jumper at the buzzer, giving Troy a thrilling 54-53 victory Tuesday night at the Trojan Activities Center.
“I think this was the best game we’ve played together as a team,” Yaqub said afterward. “We knew (Lilly) was hitting so many 3s, but we also knew if we stayed together as a team, we could fight back and win. This was our senior leadership coming through.”
Lilly lit up the TAC in the first half, connecting on his first seven attempts from 3-point range and scoring 28 of the Skyhawks’ 37 points at the break, giving Fairborn (1-1) a 37-24 lead at the break. And when Troy cut the lead to one point in the final minute of the third quarter, Lilly buried his eighth 3 of the night to give the Skyhawks a little separation with a 44-40 lead going into the fourth.
Lilly finished with 39 points, combining with Jordan Pumroy’s 11 to score 50 of the team’s 53 points as only four Skyhawks scored on the night.
“I thought we defended well on everyone except Lilly,” Troy coach Paul Bremigan said. “We give up 39 to one kid, and they end up with 53 altogether. I thought we did a nice job on Pumroy in particular. He ended up with 11, but if he’d gone off like he’s capable of, we wouldn’t have had a chance. Romello did a really nice job defensively on Pumroy.”
Meanwhile, Yaqub — who scored 30 himself in Friday’s 66-59 loss at Fairmont — was one of three Trojans (2-1) in double figures and one of five Troy players with six or more points, leading the way with 17 points on the night. Austin Persinger added 11 points, six rebounds, five steals and three blocks, Zach Reichelderfer had 10 points and six rebounds and Keenan Kinnel and Austin Funderburg had six points each as Troy didn’t lean too heavily on any one player.
“We played a great game,” Bremigan said. “That’s what we’re looking for, for sure, some more balanced scoring out of some kids. I know I can’t count on 30 from Romello every time out — it’d be nice, but it’s good for those other kids to step up.
“Zach and Trey played great games, and Persinger’s been there every single night. Keenan came off the bench and made some big plays for us. It was a case tonight where the guys stuck with it and didn’t panic. It’s a long game, and a lot can happen when you defend well.”
And in the fourth quarter, plenty did happen.
A Reichelderfer steal led to a Yaqub layup to start things off, then Persinger scored in the paint to tie the score at 44-44 — the first time the Trojans had been even since the opening tip. Persinger then hit a free throw to give the Trojans their first lead with 5:41 to play, but Lilly drove in for a layup to put Fairborn right back on top.
Persinger answered with a drive of his own to put Troy up 47-46 at the midway point of the quarter, but Lilly again had the answer with a drive to put the Skyhawks up one. Reichelderfer hit a free throw, then he stole the ball and laid it to give Troy its biggest lead of the game at 50-48 — only to have Pumroy hit a clutch floater and draw a foul, converting a three-point play to make it 51-50 Fairborn with 1:31 left. Yaqub calmly sank two free throws to give the lead back to Troy, but Lilly was clutch once again, driving for a score with 40 seconds left and making it 53-52 Fairborn.
Yaqub, though, had an answer of his own.
“I just wanted the ball in my hands,” the Troy senior said. “I knew I could make a play at the end of the game, and I did.”
Even with the Fairborn defense knowing to watch for him, Yaqub drove into the lane, spun to get free and sank a floater to give Troy a 54-53 lead with 8.5 seconds left, bringing the Trojan fans to their feet and forcing Fairborn to call one last timeout.
“He does that a lot,” Bremigan said with a laugh. “He’s just got great quickness, and he knows how to play. He plays a lot bigger and is a lot quicker than a lot of people out there give him credit for.”
And, as much as he was leaned on during the course of the game, Lilly just didn’t have one more left.
The Troy defense cut off all the driving lanes on the ensuing possession, and Lilly was forced to take a jumper on the move from just inside the 3-point line. His shot was off, and Reichelderfer brought down the rebound to seal the win.
It was Troy’s second come-from-behind effort in a row, even if the last one resulted in a loss. Troy fell 17 points behind Fairmont on the road last week, only to fight back and cut the deficit to three late — and even have the ball with a chance to tie — before falling 66-59. Last season, Fairborn beat Troy by 13, 56-43.
Troy will need every last bit of that fight Friday night, as well — the Trojans open Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division play at defending champion Greenville.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.