Joyce and Akron SVSM are a familiar sight in this area in mid-January. Involved with the Irish since LeBron James prepped there, Joyce often schedules Akron SVSM during the long MLK holiday weekend against Thurgood Marshall, Dunbar or Trotwood-Madison, then plays the next day in Flyin’ to the Hoop as a trip bonus.
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There’s also a great reason for that schedule-kicking routine: The Irish will be playing in their 14th final four and seeking their seventh state title, all since 1983.
“It’s always been good for us to come down and play,” said Joyce, who inherited the Irish program when James was a junior and succeeded Keith Dambrot, now Akron’s head coach.
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“The competition has always been good. That’s what I’m always looking for when I’m putting our schedule together, to find teams that are going to stretch us and help make us better. I’ve never been disappointed in any of the team’s I’ve faced in Southwest Ohio.”
Akron SVSM (23-5) hasn’t been the same since that lopsided beating from Trotwood (26-2), but neither have the Rams. Averaging 91 points, high-scoring Trotwood could become Ohio’s all-time, single-season points leader on Thursday by scoring 72 points.
Trotwood has won 13 straight games since a 69-67 upset loss at Sidney. Trotwood also lost 100-83 to Prolific Prep (Calif.) at Flyin'. The Rams completed a two-game sweep of Dunbar with a resounding 83-54 regional final win last Saturday.
“Our season has been one of resilience,” Trotwood coach Rocky Rockhold said. “We’ve been fortunate to play a tough schedule and we certainly know in our area we had a huge target on our backs. We really felt like this was a group that could give us an opportunity.”
Sure enough, this is Trotwood’s best of three teams at state. Before he starred at Dayton, Chris Wright led Trotwood to a D-I final in 2006. The only problem was Canton McKinley had all-time leading scorer Raymar Morgan, who went to an NCAA final four with Michigan State.
Trotwood exhausted all its good fortune by the time the Rams fell to Upper Arlington in the 2014 D-I state semis. Trotwood earned that final four by overcoming a 16-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat Moeller on Chris Mack's 3-pointer in the final seconds of a regional final at Xavier.
The Rams played Moeller after stunning Wayne on Dazhontae Bennett's jumper as time expired in overtime in a regional semi.
“We’re going to go into it with the same mentality that we’ve had,” Rockhold said, “which is do what we do.”
THURSDAY’S D-II BOYS STATE SEMIFINAL
Trotwood-Madison vs. Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, 2 p.m., OSU’s Schottenstein Center