By Josh Brown
TROY — With all three of its big men either in foul trouble or already fouled out, Troy had to go little.
And the Trojans’ guards came up huge.
Romello Yaqub led the Trojans with 19 points, Ryan McClurg hit the go-ahead jumper with 39 seconds to go, Trey Bucio grabbed a big defensive rebound and hit a free throw for a little breathing room and the defense withstood three misses in the closing seconds as Troy team held on for a hard-fought 45-42 victory over Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division rival Butler Friday at the Trojan Activities Center.
“We haven’t gone small a lot this year,” Troy boys basketball coach Paul Bremigan said. “We had to go small tonight, and it was good for us to go small and win this one. This gives the kids some confidence going forward.”
It was the second straight win for the Trojans (4-6, 1-2 GWOC North) after a five-game losing streak, while the Aviators (2-7, 0-3 GWOC North) fell for the seventh time in their last eight games.
Eleven of Yaqub’s 19 points came in the second half, including three clutch baskets in big situations. After the Aviators had cut Troy’s nine-point halftime lead to only one at 31-30 in the final minute of the third quarter, Yaqub hit a floater at the buzzer to make it a three-point game going into the fourth. And twice in the fourth quarter, Yaqub hit shots with the score tied to keep the Trojans in control.
“He (Yaqub) did a nice job penetrating for us tonight,” Bremigan said. “He takes the ball stronger to the basket than most anyone on the team, but he doesn’t get sent to the line as much as he probably should. He’s our leader in assists and points — we ask a lot out of him, and he’s really responded.”
With the score tied at 40-40, though, the Aviator defense collapsed on Yaqub on a drive, with four defenders blocking his way and one swatting his shot away. The Trojans got the ball back, though, and Austin Persinger — who was a perfect 6 for 6 from the free throw line on the night, 4 for 4 in the fourth alone — hit a pair of free throws to give the lead back to Troy.
Butler’s Zach Ledbetter — who led the Aviators with 19 points and eight rebounds — drove in to tie the score again at 42-42 with less than a minute to play. But when Yaqub drove on the ensuing Troy possession, he kicked to an open McClurg, who canned a jumper to keep the Trojans out front. Butler aired a 3-point attempt, and Bucio came down with the rebound and was fouled, hitting a free throw to make it a three-point game with 25 seconds to play.
“Ryan hit a really big shot for us,” Bremigan said. “He played really well tonight. And Austin (Persinger) and Trey hit some big free throws down the stretch for us.”
Butler called a timeout with 19.6 seconds left to set up a play, but the Aviators missed a 3, missed a putback attempt and then missed another 3 at the buzzer, and Troy celebrated the victory.
The game was even throughout the early going, with Butler taking a 16-15 lead with two minutes left in the first half. The Trojans played flawless basketball during that final two minutes, though, going on a 10-point run to take a 25-16 lead into halftime. Bucio and McClurg hit back-to-back 3s to give Troy control and DeMarcus Moody scored inside to make it 23-16, then McClurg drew a charge and Yaqub scored right before the half. Yaqub then hit a 3 early in the third that gave Troy the biggest lead for either team on the night at 28-18.
“We got up 28-18, and then we missed three layups,” Bremigan said. “We missed a few contested shots inside that you’ve got to get something on, either hit the basket or get to the line, and pretty soon after that, it’s a ballgame again.”
After going 11 for 20 from the field in the first half, Troy went 3 for 12 in the third and turned it over five times, allowing Butler to claw its way back. Mechia Linton — who was coming off a career-high 23 points in the Trojans’ win at West Carrollton Tuesday — picked up his fourth foul early in the third. In the end, he fouled out with two points and three rebounds, his backup Austin Funderburg also fouled out and Persinger played with four fouls throughout the later parts of the fourth quarter.
“Our foul trouble dictated what we could do on offense a little,” Bremigan said. “They (Butler) took the ball strong to the basket, and sometimes we don’t go straight up … but sometimes we do. But I’m not a believer in sitting down a kid with two fouls. I know some coaches are, but I think that if you’re a good player, you can learn to play with two fouls. And we learned some things about that tonight.”
Persinger scored six of his eight points in the second half, though, fighting through the foul trouble to contribute — and all six of those points came from the free throw line, too. Persinger added eight rebounds and McClurg finished with seven points and six rebounds and Keenan Kinnel had one point and six rebounds as Troy still contended with the Aviators on the boards despite its big men being in foul trouble.
Bucio finished with four points and Zion Taylor and Moody each added two.
Brian Jenkins was also in double figures for the Aviators with 11 points, James Clark added six and Nathan Stogdill, Aaron Fields and Trey Sanders each had two.
The Trojans face another big test Saturday night, hosting 10-2 Tecumseh.
“It was good for us to win this one,” Bremigan said. “We fought through some things.”
And came up big.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.