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Troy State and Samford coaches

get ready for big TAAC showdown

By STEVEN G. WATSON

Sports Editor

Depending on which coach you ask about the upcoming Troy State Samford matchup Thursday, you’ll hear a lot of great things about either team.

The great things the two in question – head coach Don Maestri at Troy State and Jim Tillette at Samford – have to say is mostly all about their opponent however.

"We’ve been playing well the last few games, but this game will be, by far, our toughest league game," Tillette said of the Trojans. "Troy is shooting the ball very well and they are probably as good an offensive team as we’ve played all year including St. Johns. We’re still scratching our heads on how to stop them."

On the other side of the fence Maestri sees a team that is, year in and year out, the lead contender for the TAAC Championship. Last year they won the championship and return all of their starters while adding depth to the lineup as well.

"This is the second best team in Alabama behind Auburn, I really believe that," Maestri said. "They’ve got the total package. I think they’re a great basketball team because they’re balanced, they’re deep, they have shooters, they have size, they have great ball handlers and the system that they run is unique and is bound to give any team problems."

The game will feature two of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country.

Troy State is ranked fifth while Samford holds the 16th position in the NCAA’s so expect some shooting from the outside, something Maestri has had nightmares about already.

"They have maybe the only team in the country that the entire starting lineup can shoot the three well," Maestri said. "And that’s what they like to do. They run a system that is a lot like Princeton’s. There will be a lot of backdoor cuts and 3-point shots. They will score on layups or 3-pointers, pick your poison."

"Offensively we’ve had some success making three’s, but so has Troy State," Tillette said. "We have kind of a unique offense in that we never go into a game saying that one guy needs to get five shots or another guy needs to get eight shots. It’s kind of whatever materializes. It’s an equal opportunity offense and the kids have bought into it. That means our guys are being unselfish.

"As for Troy State, nobody has really been able to stop them offensively all year and it looks like their getting better with every game," the Samford coach continued. "As that team continues to come together and the team’s chemistry grows they’re going to be harder to beat the next time we play."

The big thing that Maestri points out about Samford is the early part of their season when they upset a nationally ranked St. Johns team to begin their season and defeated Alabama for the first time in the school’s history. That Alabama win proves to Maestri that this is a quality basketball team and that they will fight tooth and nail with anyone they take the court against.

"I don’t think people quite understand how significant that is," Maestri said. "If our football team beat Auburn or Alabama, I don’t know how many weeks we’d be celebrating. That would put it into perspective a little bit better for our people. I just think that’s a very significant accomplishment."

Anyway you want to look at it both teams will have their hands full when they meet up in Trojan arena Thursday night. All the pieces are there for an outstanding college basketball game and whichever coach can find a weakness first, trust that they won’t hesitate to use it.