It was a Metro Buckeye Conference match-up between a perennial power, the first place Broncos (9-5, 8-1 MBC), and a surprising upstart contender in the Eagles (10-4, 6-3 MBC)—and it was just what the doctor ordered for a very frigid Friday evening.
“Tonight we didn’t value each possession,” a disappointed Jefferson head coach Art Winston said afterwards. “We didn’t take care of the ball. We were out there just throwing it around. I told the kids that there are only two ways you can let a team back in a game. You can turn it over and you can take bad shots. We turned the ball over.
“We also settled for some bad passes and we let them back in the game. It killed our momentum,” Winston continued, “because once we are able to get the ball into the post we should be able to score. Instead we were turning the ball over at the top of the key. We have to learn to take care of the basketball, until we do that we aren’t a very good team.”
In the first quarter Jefferson had no problem getting the ball inside to their talented group of post players. Dwayne Sanders hit a pair of threes, and Brit Zachary threw down a bomb of his own for good measure. At the end of one quarter it was Jefferson 20, Troy Christian 8.
The Broncos would easily maintain that lead until 6:03 left in the fourth quarter. At that point, the Warriors were already shooting in the double bonus. Andrew Longnecker hit a pair of free throws. Sam Armstrong hit a jumper. Then he hit a three and suddenly Troy Christian was in the ballgame.
Both teams traded turnovers for the next three possessions in what could only be described as a free-for-all. This was a very physical game, and even with all of the foul shooting it was obvious that the officials were letting them play. Even so, this was more intense then usual.
Down 60-54 with time running out, Troy Christian shifted to a diamond-and-one full court zone press and forced Jefferson to turn the ball over again. But, Adrianne Payne rose out of nowhere to block the Eagles' shot, corral the rebound, and get fouled in the process. Payne coolly made both shots. Steven Robinson threw down two more free throws for the Broncos and the final score was Jefferson 64, Troy Christian 57.
“I was just trying to rebound and do what I need to do to help out with the team,” Payne said. “I am double teamed most of the time so it is hard for me to get the ball. It’s up to me to work to get it. I have to be a team player and get my points off of the boards. It’s also important for me to knock down my free throws, too. I’m still working on that.”
Payne scored 17 points (11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks) to lead the Broncos. Rondell Beard (3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocks) joined him in double figures with 14.
Rich Boots led the Warriors with 17 points (3 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1 assist). Armstrong scored in double figures as well with 14 (2 assists, 2 steals). Logan Francis had 6 points (4 assists) but his 12 turnovers were one of the keys to the outcome this game. Those turnovers were largely due to Jefferson’s intense zone pressure.
Regardless, Troy Christian head coach Dan Vaughan is proud of his team’s effort.
“We’ll look back and regret some of those missed opportunities tonight,” Vaughan said. “We had it down to six points and we were shooting the double bonus—and we got a break away lay-up only to get it blocked. I would have liked to have seen what we could have done there.
“As a coach all I ever really want is an opportunity to win at the end of the game. We had that here, but it’s not satisfying. We played right into their hands. We went full court and we tried some man to man and you saw what happened. We went to the (diamond-and-one) zone press hoping to throw some fuel on the fire and it worked. We got some turnovers and we got our shots.”
Jefferson ran a 2-2-1 zone most of the night (they used a 3-2 on in bounds plays). They do a lot of things out of those packages but basically they run a 2-2-1.
“Late in the game we switched to man in order to make sure everyone was covered and to encourage our guys to get after somebody,” Winston laughed. “Then, in the last couple of minutes we switched back to our base 2-2-1 zone and it was more effective for us. We weren’t concerned with penetration because we have shot-blockers; we just didn’t want to foul them so they could get a three-point play.
“I told them to take away the three. I told them to over-play on the perimeter and hopefully force them to pass the ball and eat the clock. To a certain extent it worked; but seriously, we have just got to get better. The tournament is coming up and life is short.”
Jefferson made 17 out of 19 free throw attempts. The Eagles blew a big opportunity when they made only made 11 out of 17 of their attempts. Worse than that: they were shooting in the double bonus most of the second half.
“At some point we have to actually make those shots, but I’ve had faith in these guys all along,” Troy Christian’s head coach said. “I’m not naïve enough to think that we, a Christian school, are going to win every game. I’m very content to have a terrific effort from our guys and they’re content as well. We haven’t always had that, but I think tonight we walked off the floor feeling a lot better about ourselves.
“I felt confident that we would have another run there (a reminder: they were fifteen points down well into the fourth period). Even with two minutes to go I felt good. I felt like something miraculous was going to happen and it almost did.”
The Eagles know all about Jefferson's proud history and they are unsurprised by anything they see.
“I’ll tell you something about Jefferson,” Vaughan laughed. “Do not be deceived! With their up-tempo style they force a lot of the things that look like mental errors, and there is never a lack of discipline on their part even though it may look like it. They never, ever let down. They never get careless, and usually they’ll stick a dagger in your heart when they get a lead on you.
“They don’t play around. That’s why I was so concerned when we were down fifteen. It was not a good sign. But I had a feeling that tonight we had it in us and we almost pulled it off. I’m proud of what we have accomplished.”