ATHENS — Chaos reigns in the Large School Division of the NTL.
Troy’s 74-71 win over Athens puts the top three teams into a tie in the loss column for the division with two game days left.
The game itself was much like the NTL boys’ basketball season — a lot of twists and turns, offensive runs and big defensive stops and an exciting finish that seemed to drag on as the game went down to the bitter end.
“It feels real good,” Troy coach Steve Renzi said. “These kids have come together as a family; five guys as one. They communicate with each other, they are dedicated to each other.”
It’s been an exciting week for the Trojans, rallying to beat Wellsboro on Thursday and then holding on by the skin of their teeth to top Athens on Saturday.
“I’m kind of an old school coach but in the last week and a half I used to get mad when you had to coddle kids, but it’s not coddling, it’s loving,” he remarked. “And they love you back and they really play hard.”
Both teams’ stars showed up.
Troy’s Ty Barrett had a double-double of 26 points and 11 boards, center Mason Imbt had a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds while Nick Williams finished with 19 points, including four 3-pointers, all of which came in the tide turning third quarter.
“He was cold in the first half and we talked to him at halftime and told him ‘we know how good you are,’” Renzi said about Williams. “He’s been taking the ball to the basket this year, doing a lot more leading the team and he just came out and we said ‘you’re open, shoot the ball,’ because they are in a triangle-and-2. And he just busted it open.”
The Wildcats used a 1-2-2 to great affect against Wyalusing on Thursday so it was no surprise they would try and take Barrett out of the game with a mixed defense.
“We knew they were going to go into that kind of stuff,” explained Barrett. “We had plays going to get me the ball.”
His rebounding was important, too, as the Wildcats were the taller, longer team.
“I just knew I had to do it all to get the win and play smart,” said Barrett.
For Athens Aaron Lane had 22 points, five rebounds and four assists, Troy Pritchard had his second straight double-double of 12 points and 13 boards while JJ Babcock had 15 points, eight boards, four steals and his usual strong defense at the rim.
Both teams had their big shooting quarters from 3-point land — Athens in the second with five of their nine 3-balls and Troy in the third with five of their eight 3-pointers — but the biggest difference was getting to the foul line.
Troy got there 33 times to Athens’ 12 with the Wildcats having three players foul out as they battled foul trouble from the second quarter on.
The Trojans also had foul trouble of their own as their starting front court of Imbt and Dom Ayers both fouled out late, leaving them precariously small during Athens’ final charge.
With 3:21 left to play Troy was up by 10 points but saw that lead dwindle as Athens clawed their back into it.
The Wildcats cut it to a 2-point game with 40 seconds left to play and then to 1-point with 30 seconds to go but they only scored one more bucket after that as Troy went 4-for-6 from the charity stripe to close things out.
“We have to make it close,” remarked Renzi dryly. “The cardiac kids I think.”
The afternoon tip-off may have thrown things off as it was a slow start for both teams.
At the halfway point of the first quarter Athens led 6-1 with Babcock netting four of those points.
After trading baskets Troy made a run 10-0 run in 1:20 to take a 13-8 lead. Barrett fueled that burst with seven of those points while Ethan VanNoy was fouled on a 3-pointer and hit all three from the charity stripe.
Athens answered as Mason Lister bagged a 3-pointer followed by a Lane jumper to knot things up with 40 seconds left in the quarter.
Williams hit a driving lay-up for Troy with 28 seconds to play then at the buzzer Zeb Oldroyd came off the bench and made a corner-3 to give the Trojans an 18-13 first quarter lead.
Athens had a mini-run of their own to start the second quarter as Babcock and Lane hit back to back 3-balls to take a 19-18 lead.
Imbt led a 4-0 Troy run after that to put them back up 22-19.
A Pritchard 3-point play followed by a Lister 3-ball put Athens ahead again, 25-22, halfway through the quarter.
Barrett would hit a free throw with 2:37 left to make it 25-23 but Lane answered with a 3-pointer, spurring an 8-1 Wildcat run that saw them take a 33-24 advantage with 40 seconds to go in the half.
Athens got some bench production of their own as Brady Smith knocked in the second 3-ball at the end of that run.
Williams ended the half on a high note for Troy as he finished off a 3-point play with 27 seconds left to cut it to 33-27 at the midway point.
Things reversed in the third quarter as it was Troy getting the quick start out of the break with an Imbt lay-up followed by a Williams 3-ball, cutting it to 33-32 less than a minute in.
Lane followed that seconds later with a put back but VanNoy knocked in a 3-ball and the game was tied 35-35 with 5:40 to play in the third.
A Babcock jumper put Athens back up but Williams’ second 3-pointer of the third gave Troy a 38-37 lead.
Two Lane free throws saw Athens go up again 39-38 but Williams followed with a 3-ball to make it 41-39 Troy.
The tit-for-tat continued with Babcock getting a put back to knot things up at 41-all while Imbt made it 44-43 with a lay-up.
Hudson nailed a 3-pointer with just under three minutes to go in the third to put the Wildcats up 44-43 but Williams’ final 3-pointer followed by a Barrett jumper put the Trojans up 48-44 with 37 seconds left to play.
A Lane put back with 10 seconds left in the third cut it to 2-points with just eight minutes left.
Athens tied it up right off the bat in the fourth quarter as Pritchard had a put back.
Barrett, though, scored five straight points — two jumpers and a free throw — to give Troy a 53-48 lead with 5:50 left to play.
Babcock and Lane buckets brought Athens back, cutting it to 53-52 with 5:00 to go but that’s when the Trojans found separation.
Over the course of a little over a minute they went on a 9-0 run beginning with a VanNoy lay-up. Imbt had a put back, Barrett hit a 3-pointer and Ayers had a put back to give the Trojans their 10 point lead.
“The best feeling I ever had,” Barrett explained when they took that double digit lead. They would extend their lead to 67-55 with 1:33 to play and a win all but guaranteed.
“I knew we had to make free throws and we would win,” remarked Barrett.
Saying it is one thing, doing it is another.
Athens put them on the line early, with just under two minutes to go, but Troy struggled, missing their first four attempts at the charity stripe.
That allowed Athens to get back into the game.
Lane started the rally with a put back as the Wildcats got to the free throw line twice with just over a minute to play. They went 3-for-4 to cut it to 67-61.
After going 0-for-4 VanNoy stopped the bleeding from the foul line with a make to make it 68-61 with 54 seconds to play.
However, just before that Imbt fouled out while Ayers fouled out just after.
With Troy at their smallest Athens went inside with Tucker Brown getting a lay-up and foul. He missed his free throw but Lister nabbed the offensive board, put it back and was fouled. He hit his free throw to cut it to 68-66 with just over 40 seconds to play.
Athens fouled Williams who proceeded to end Troy’s cold streak, hitting both from the free throw line to make it a 4-point game with 40.2 seconds to play.
The Wildcats continued to make it interesting as Lane nailed a corner three with 30 seconds to go to cut it to 70-69.
Caleb Binford was fouled and went 1-for-2 from the line, pushing the lead back to 72-69 with 22 seconds left to play.
Athens got a good look at a 3-ball on their next possession but it didn’t go down. Barrett grabbed the board and was fouled with 9.5 seconds left.
He hit both to extend the lead to four points.
On Athens’ next possession Hudson barreled his way in for a lay-up, cutting it to 73-71 with three seconds to play.
Troy was able to inbound the ball to VanNoy, who was immediately fouled.
He went 1-for-2 from the line, giving Athens 1.9 seconds for one last chance to send the game into overtime.
They got a half court shot off but it was high off the backboard as the buzzer rang out.
“This is probably the biggest game I’ve ever been in,” Barrett said.
He continued his string of strong fourth quarters, scoring half his points in the final frame.
“Ty’s the best basketball player in the league as a sophomore,” Renzi remarked. “He works hard for everything he’s got in basketball and he’s going to keep working hard and keep leading us to where we need to be.”
VanNoy finished with 10 points and eight rebounds as Oldroyd scored three. Ayers finished with two points, five boards and three steals and Binford had the two points.
Lister came away with nine points and three assists while Hudson finished with six points. Smith notched five points and Brown scored two.
The Wildcats fall to 11-3 in the NTL, Troy improves to 11-3 with Wyalusing taking a half game lead at 12-3 after their win over Towanda on Saturday.
All three teams could still win the title, finish first or second to reach the showcase or fall out completely.
Athens travels to NP-Mansfield on Tuesday then finishes up league play with Towanda at home on Thursday.
Troy has the toughest road with Wyalusing Tuesday and NP-Mansfield Thursday but both games are home.
The Rams just have Troy as they played their final league game against Wellsboro earlier in the season.
A long story short nothing has been settled and the fireworks have just begun.
“We’ve got to have a serious practice Monday,” remarked Barrett. “And focus on the rest of the games.”