By Josh Brown
TROY — Austin Persinger gave Troy a chance.
Mechia Linton stuck with it and made good on it.
After his first attempt was blocked, the Troy center followed his own miss with a game-winning putback to give the Trojans the lead with 7.3 seconds left, and the Yellow Jackets committed a turnover on the other end as Troy celebrated a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Sidney, 55-54 Tuesday night at the Trojan Activities Center.
“We just battled,” Troy coach Paul Bremigan said. “We kept battling all night long, and that’s what we wanted to do. It was good to see the kids go out and battle a bit.”
The win was a big one for Troy (7-14, 3-6 Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division) — as well as a potential second-round sectional tournament matchup. The Trojans, who lost 56-39 at Sidney on Jan. 15, are the 17th seed in the tournament, facing No. 5 Xenia in the first round. The winner of that game gets the winner between sixth-seeded Sidney (14-7, 5-4 GWOC North) and No. 8 Tecumseh in the second round.
And when it came to big plays Tuesday night, they all began on the defense end.
With the Yellow Jackets protecting a one-point lead late, Persinger — who had a steal-and-layup to tie the score at 50-50 with two minutes remaining — dove for a loose ball and called timeout while covering it up, giving Troy possession with 39.9 seconds left. The Trojans worked the clock for a while, until Romello Yaqub drove into the paint with less than 10 seconds left, dishing to Linton after drawing the defense — but the Jackets reacted quickly, triple-teaming Linton and blocking the first attempt.
But Linton wasn’t deterred. He remained focused, grabbed the ball on the floor in front of him and took it right back up, scoring an uncontested putback to give Troy a 55-54 lead with 7.3 seconds on the clock.
“He (Linton) made plays like that two or three times in the game, and that was a big one,” Bremigan said. “Persinger and Austin Funderburg did a nice job of rebounding the ball for us throughout the game, too. It was really good to see.
“Persinger did a nice job, got us a couple of steals on the defensive end, went to the floor for a loose ball. He only had two points, but he made some defensive plays in crunch time.”
Sidney tried to drive the lane and dump the way Yaqub and Linton did, but the Jackets went in out of control and the pass went sailing out of bounds, giving Troy the ball back with 1.5 seconds left. Troy was then able to get the ball in bounds and run off that final second for the win.
After getting only a combined two points from its four post players in Saturday’s loss to Tippecanoe, Troy’s big men responded Tuesday. Linton led all scorers with 15 points and added nine rebounds and two blocked shots, Zach Reichelderfer added eight points and five rebounds, Funderburg had two points and five rebounds and Persinger had two points, four rebounds and the two big steals.
“They did (respond),” Bremigan said. “We went back and worked on some things in practice on Monday. We haven’t had a lot of time to practice since Saturday, but the kids worked hard and played well tonight.”
Yaqub added 13 points, four rebounds and five assists and Ryan McClurg gave the Trojans a third player in double figures with 10 points, with both of them hitting clutch fourth-quarter 3s to keep Troy in striking distance. Estevan Stafford had three points and Trey Bucio added two to round out Troy’s scoring.
Andre Gordon was the lone Yellow Jacket in double digits with 11 points, Devon Rogers added nine and Lorenzo Taborn had nine points and eight rebounds. Cameron Gallimore had eight points and eight rebounds, Darryl McNeal had eight points and six rebounds and Isaiah Bowser had six points and five rebounds as Sidney won the battle of the boards 42-36 but turned the ball over 14 times to Troy’s nine.
And in the end, that was the difference in the game — the Jackets began the game on a 7-0 run and led 19-14 after the first quarter, but Troy forced seven second-quarter turnovers and held Sidney to 1 for 11 from the field, going on a 9-1 run and taking a 27-23 halftime lead.
“We tell the kids that we need to start playing like we’re 10 behind from the get-go,” Bremigan said. “And we got down 7-0 to start tonight — but we battled. Not turning the ball over? That’s big for us. The kids executed what we needed to do tonight.”
Sidney retook the lead early in the third thanks to a 7-0 run, all seven of them second-chance points, and Troy trailed 40-37 going into the fourth. The Jackets held a lead as big as six at 48-42 before a Yaqub 3 kept Troy alive and, after a Sidney putback, a 3 by McClurg made it a 50-48 game. Persinger stole the ball and tied the game, but Sidney led 54-51 before Linton spun into the paint and connected to make it a one-point game — setting up Persinger’s steal and Linton’s clutch bucket to win it.
The Trojans close out the regular season Friday night at home against Piqua, a 10-point winner over Butler Tuesday.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.