By Josh Brown
VANDALIA — Deja vu doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Just ask Romello Yaqub and the Troy Trojans.
Yaqub had a game-high 20 points to keep Troy within striking distance after Butler took a lead as big as 15 points early in Friday night’s game. Ryan McClurg then hit a game-tying 3 with two minutes to play and Mechia Linton hit a pair of clutch free throws to give the Trojans their first lead of the game with 1:34 to go, and Troy’s boys basketball team was able to hold on for a 54-52 come-from-behind victory Friday night at Butler’s Student Activities Center.
It was the second straight win for the Trojans (6-13, 2-6 Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division) after defeating state-ranked Miami East on Jan. 30. It also completed the season sweep over the Aviators (4-14, 0-8 GWOC North).
Not only that, though, it was the second straight time the Trojans had to rally from a big deficit at the SAC. Last season at Butler, Troy trailed by as many as 19 in the first half before taking the lead with a 19-2 run and outscoring the Aviators 29-9 in the fourth to win 59-54.
“This was a really good win for us,” Troy coach Paul Bremigan said. “This is one we can build on, but now we’ve got to turn around and get ready for Tippecanoe (Saturday night at Hobart Arena).”
Yaqub — who had a breakout game and was instrumental in last year’s comeback win at Butler, as well — was held scoreless in the first quarter as Troy went 2 for 11 from the field, only connecting on a pair of Linton putbacks. Butler, meanwhile, hit its first three 3-point attempts of the game, jumping out to a 16-4 lead after one and leading by as many as 15 at 21-6 early in the second quarter.
“We weren’t playing the way we want to play in the first half,” Bremigan said. “They kind of made us stand around, and we didn’t have good energy. We told the kids that we’ve got to force the action.”
Yaqub did just that, scoring 10 second-quarter points to keep the Trojans afloat — including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close the gap to 23-18 at halftime.
Then it was McClurg’s turn to come alive. After leading Troy with 22 points in its win over Miami East, McClurg was shut out in the first half — but he hit a pair of 3s and scored eight third-quarter points, nailing a 3 in the waning moments to close the gap to 36-33 heading into the fourth.
“Ryan missed a couple shots early, then he just kind of stopped shooting,” Bremigan said. “We told him at the half to keep taking those open shots and have confidence in your shot. He hit some big ones for us tonight.”
The gap stayed between three and six points for most of the fourth until McClurg tied the score at 49-49 with 1:55 to play with his third 3-pointer of the game. The Trojans got a big defensive stop and Linton went to the line with 1:34 to go. He knocked down the first, Butler called timeout in an effort to ice him but he still hit the second to make it 51-49 — the Trojans’ first lead of the game.
“Getting the lead, that was the turning point,” Bremigan said. “After you’ve been playing behind the whole game, it’s important for you psychologically — and for them psychologically, too. I’ve seen plenty of times where you battle and you battle but you just never get the lead. But once you do get it, things change. The pressure all goes on the other team, when it hasn’t been on them the whole game. So it not only energizes your kids, but it can cause them to play differently, too.”
That’s exactly what happened, too, as Butler rushed a shot on its next possession and McClurg pulled down the rebound. Yaqub hit a pair of free throws to give the Trojans a 53-49 lead — but Noah Ballard hit a clutch 3 to make it a one-point game with 22 seconds remaining.
Yaqub then took a hard foul on the other end with 18.4 seconds left. He shook it off and hit the first, but Butler called timeout again and he missed the second, and the Aviators called timeout with 4.9 seconds left to set up one last play. Their game-winning 3 attempt was off the mark, though, and a try at a putback jumper hit the front of the rim, allowing the Trojans to celebrate another hard-fought win.
Yaqub and Linton were both money from the free throw line, with Yaqub going 7 for 8 and Linton 5 for 6 as the Trojans were 12 for 16 as a team. Butler, on the other hand, was 7 for 15 from the free throw line.
“That was big for us,” Bremigan said. “We went 14 for 28 from the line at Trotwood the other night, so that was good to see.”
Yaqub had seven rebounds and six assists to go with his team-high 20 points, Linton finished with 15 points and six rebounds and McClurg had 11 points. Zach Reichelderfer added four points and Keenan Kinnel and Austin Persinger each had two, with everyone coming up big on the defensive end when they needed to.
“Romello played well for us, Ryan hit some big shots and we got good minutes out of Keenan Kinnel and Zion Taylor,” Bremigan said. “I was proud of the kids.”
Zach Ledbetter led the Aviators with 16 points, Brian Jenkins had 13 points and six rebounds, Ballard added eight and Torin Fletcher scored six.
For the game, Troy was 18 for 44 from the field (41 percent) and forced 14 turnovers while only turning it over 10 times. Butler was 19 for 33 from the field (58 percent) and outrebounded Troy 30-27.
The Trojans host Tippecanoe at Hobart Arena Saturday night as part of Troy’s 100 years of basketball celebration. They then finish the regular season at home against Sidney Tuesday and Piqua Friday.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.