Boys basketball: Russia dominates Troy Christian, earns regional title and state berth

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KETTERING — Russia earned its second consecutive state berth on Friday and left no doubt it belongs among the state’s best Division IV teams.

The Raiders steamrolled Troy Christian 56-35 at Kettering Fairmont’s Trent Arena to earn a Div. IV regional title. The Raiders (27-1) advance to face Richmond Heights in a D-IV state semifinal this coming Friday at University of Dayton Arena.

“We’ve known all year that this is our goal to come back here,” Russia junior guard Vince Borchers said. “We came out here and played as hard as we could. We knew whatever happened would be what we deserved.”

The Raiders deserve a state berth after dominating all their tournament games. They led by 21 points at halftime on Friday and cruised in the second half.

The 21-point margin was the team’s closest so far in tournament play. Its first five postseason wins came by margins of 34 or more.

“You can never take a game lightly, but with our height and how we can run the floor, we can beat almost any team,” Russia junior guard Benjamin York, who led the team with 19 points, said.

The Raiders built a 32-11 halftime lead thanks in part to causing 12 turnovers, which they scored 13 points off of.

Even when they didn’t get a fast-break opportunity, they moved it well against the Eagles’ zone and found good shot opportunities. The Raiders shot 12 for 21 (57.1 percent) from the floor in the first half while Troy Christian shot 3 for 12 (25 percent).

“We talked about getting out and running, and that’s what we did,” Borchers said. “We didn’t think anyone can run with us, and I guess we proved it.

“… We talked about pressuring the ball, playing as hard as we could and seeing what could happen. I guess this is what happens.”

Russia dominated at rebounding as well. The Raiders, which have three players 6-foot-4 or taller, finished with a 23-11 rebounding advantage and held the Eagles to three offensive rebounds.

“It’s length and athleticism, that’s what it is,” Russia coach Spencer Cordonnier said. “Our length, when you’ve got 6-4 guarding point guards and 6-5 coming out to guard, it’s a problem. It’s been a problem all year long. We kind of go against the grain a little bit with some of our matchups, but it’s worked out for us.”

Aside from its length and athleticism, the Raiders have depth few teams can match. Borchers, who played JV last year, has stepped up as a contributor for Russia. He scored 11 points on Friday and had two assists.

“We lost a big senior in Zane Shappie from last year, and I knew my role would be to try to fill his spot this year,” Borchers said. “He taught me a lot last year.”

Aside from York and Borchers’ big scoring nights, Brayden Monnin and Felix Francis each added seven points and senior guard Hayden Quinter scored six points and had seven assists and a team-high five rebounds.

Borchers said the players talked to the graduates off last year’s state team before Friday’s game, and they had a simple message.

“They said that’s what they wanted us to do, and that’s what we did, get back to state,” Borchers said.

Cordonnier said he called timeout with three minutes left and congratulated the group on earning another regional title.

“The game was in hand, and I just smiled,” Cordonnier said. “They were like, ‘What are you smiling about? The game ain’t over. I said, ‘It’s over. It’s in hand.’

“Everybody talked all year long about how this is where we’re supposed to be. It’s not easy. It’s just not. You’ve got to fight all year long to fight off all that stuff, to fight every single night. These guys went 28 games getting everybody’s best shot every single night out and lost one game. It’s a testament to what these kids are all about. They’re fighters and winners. Plain and simple, they’re winners.”

It will be the second consecutive season the Raiders will face Richmond Heights in a state semifinal. The Spartans, which were ranked No. 3 in the final state Associated Press D-IV poll of the season, beat Russia 66-51 last year.

“They’re a really good team. They’re fast, long and big,” Borchers said. “We’ll just have to play hard, limit turnovers and attack them at the rim.”

Russia, which was ranked No. 2 in the final state AP D-IV poll, led 38-36 with under two minutes left in the third quarter of last year’s state semi. But Richmond Heights pulled away in the last nine minutes, thanks in part to scoring the last five points of the third.

The Spartans (17-9) finished undefeated last year but significantly beefed up their schedule. They’ve won their five tournament games by at least 34 points, including a 95-61 win over Warren JFK in a regional final on Friday in Canton.

“Our guys are going to have fun this week,” Cordonnier said. “They had a lot of fun last year. The community’s got something going every night. Everyone wants to feed you, give you a meal here and a meal there.

“… It really is going to be the same. They’ve got athletes all over the floor. They’re 6-8, 6-7, 6-9, and they’re athletic. We’re just going to prepare, throw the ball up in the air and see what happens.

“You know the fight in our guys. I’m not saying we’re going to win, but we’re going to fight for 32 minutes and see what happens.”

Troy Christian, which was ranked No. 4 in the final state AP D-IV poll, finishes 25-3.

Troy Christian senior guard Parker Penrod, who like Quinter and Monnin was a first team all-Southwest district selection in D-IV, scored a game-high 20 points, 13 of which came in the second half.

“These kids respect each other. It’s a shame for (Troy Christian coach) Ray (Zawadzki) and the job he’s done with that program to get beat by us the last two years,” Cordonnier said. “He’s a fantastic human being and a great coach. His program is always full of fighters and winners.”

Russia beat Troy Christian 64-39 in the WPTW Holiday Classic on Dec. 28 in Piqua. The Raiders also won in lopsided fashion in regular season last year and beat the Eagles 41-33 in a regional semifinal.

While York said the team knows it will have a challenge against the Spartans, they’re excited for another opportunity.

“We’re going to go out there and fight our butt off,” York said.

DIV. IV STATE SEMIFINAL

Who: Russia vs. Richmond Heights

When: 2 p.m., Friday

Where: University of Dayton Arena

Tickets: OHSAA.org/Tickets

Radio: ScoresBroadcast.com

Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.

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Bryant Billing has worked as the sports editor of the Sidney Daily News since 2017. He worked as a reporter and later as an editor for a weekly newspaper in Springfield from 2007 to 2012, managed a Springfield-based website called TopBillingSports.com from 2012 to 2016 and then worked as a freelancer for Cox Media Group Ohio newspapers (including the Dayton Daily News) from 2016 to 2017 before joining the SDN.

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