TROY – During the course of a season there are always a few games circled on the calendar as signature games … a game coaches, players, loyal fans and even basketball enthusiast want to see.
And despite 4 inches of blowing snow and slick roads, the Troy Christian gymnasium was full to take this one in Saturday night.
They wanted to see two top 10 state ranked teams, No. 7 Troy Christian and No. 5 Tri-Village, in a rematch of last year’s regional semifinal game that Troy Christian won on its way to the final four.
The Patriots returned just one starter, senior Tyler Cook, and one other player with significant varsity experience, junior Colton Linkous.
So a game like this is a good measuring stick to help answer the question, how good are these Patriots?
The game was tight early on as the two teams traded baskets for much of the first period.
The Patriots got on the board first … but couldn’t shake TC as the Eagles closed the gap to 12-11 with 20 seconds in the opening frame. A nice set that ran Linkous to the corner resulted in a triple at the buzzer gave the PATS a 15-11 lead.
Question 1: How would the Patriots handle constant ball pressure from the guard-oriented Eagles? They had some turnovers … despite those turnovers … they were still able to play a half court game, and they utilized their size by pounding the ball inside to Tyler Cook, Damion Cook and at times even posting up Linkous on their way to a 31-20 halftime advantage.
Question 2: Defensively how would they stop the smaller quicker Eagles? Well the main assignment was given to senior guard Tommy Bell.
“I told him before the game his worth to our team tonight was all in how he guarded Grant Zawadzki,” TV coach Josh Sagester said.
Zawadzki, a junior sharpshooter who just surpassed 1,000 career points, was held to just four first-half points; as he goes so does Troy Christian go.
Question 3: Can this team put together four quarters of good basketball?
Tri-Village had that answer too as they expanded their lead to 45-29 at the end of the third quarter and at one time held a 21-point lead in the final stanza on their way to a 61-47 win.
“You know coming in they are a gritty, tough, hard nosed team,” Sagester said. “We more than matched their grit and played tough as well.”
They did it with a heavy does of the Cooks, both Tyler and Damion.
“Tyler is such horse … it’s hard enough to handle him for eight minutes … but try that for 32 minutes, he was awful good tonight inside,” Sagester said.
Tyler Cook ended the game with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
“Then there is Damion … he’s out there rebounding, scrapping, blocking shots, getting loose balls and on top of that he’s scoring as well,” Sagester added.
A good example of that took place in the third quarter when Damion Cook blocked a Zawadzki shot and then raced up the court to grab the missed layup, he missed the stick back and then mixed it up with two TC players to come away with the ball and then the score, never giving up on the play.
Damion Cook ended the game with 17 points and 17 rebounds.
Linkous matched Tyler Cook with game-high scoring honors with 22 points despite drawing most of the defensive attention of Troy Christian.
“He is really coming into his own and real special right now,” Sagester said.
Although Linkous, Damion Cook and Tyler Cook were the only Patriots to score, Sagester was quick to point out his other players’ contributions, too.
“Tyler Vanwinkle, a sophomore point guard, has come along well. He is able to get us into our sets and run the offense. Defensively he has been solid as well,” Sagester said.
“Defensively we were really good tonight. They (Troy Christian) are so good at using ball screens, and we really took that away tonight … Tommy Bell was so good in holding Zawadzki in check (12 points), and Mason McCabe did a nice job off the bench to spell him in relief,” Sagester concluded.
A signature game, a signature win to answer the question — how good are these Patriots? At 12-0 the answer is good, very good.
Score by quarters:
TV…15…16…14…16 – 61
TC….11…09…09…18 – 47
Tri-Village (12-0) - Colton Linkous 22, Tyler Cook 22, Damion Cook 17
Team totals 3-23-6 - 61
Troy Christian (12-2) - Varvel 13, Horn 4, Thomas 8, George 8, Poteet 2, Zawadzki 12
Team totals – 2-16-9-47