Troy State opens conference play with Gamecock

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 29, 2001

Sports Editor

It’s said all the time, but Troy State head coach Don Maestri said it again on Wednesday.

When two rival teams get together, you can toss the records out the window.

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"I don’t care if it’s Alabama-Auburn, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State or any big rivalry game, records are meaningless," said Maestri. "It’s the same way we feel when we play against Jacksonville State. Their are no upsets in a rivalry contest."

The Trojans (2-1) host the Gamecocks (1-1) tonight at 7 p.m. and if anyone should doubt the 20-year head coach, one needs only take a look at last year’s first meeting with JSU. Troy State was riding a four-game winning streak on Jan. 11, when Jacksonville State halted the Trojans’ momentum with a 79-74 road setback.

TSU won the rematch a month later, 77-63.

The two rivals will be meeting for the 99th time since 1950. The Gamecocks hold a slim 50-48 advantage in the all-time series. The Trojans have won six of the last seven meetings between the two schools and have won the last five meetings played at Trojan Arena.

Tonight’s game will also be the Atlantic Sun Conference opener for both schools.

And unlike in the past, when the league would play two conference games and take a break before the first of the year, with the addition of Belmont University to the Atlantic Sun during the offseason the Trojans will have to play four conference contests before Christmas.

"It’s because we have a 20-game conference schedule this year," said Maestri. "This is going to be a big test for our league and I don’t know if everyone’s ready to get that deep into conference play before January. That’s just the way it turned out, but I wish it was later on. It’s tough on everybody."

The Trojans are coming off two straight road victories over Maine and Marshall, while Jacksonville State lost its first game of the year to Auburn, but bounced back with a 63-52 win at Birmingham Southern.

"Birmingham Southern’s a tough place to win on the road so that’s a big confidence builder for them," said Maestri. "I actually think they’re (JSU) a better ball team then they were last season, because they’ve got some added depth. They’re also more athletic and better on defense."

Former Auburn star Jay Heard (6-3, 212) has found a home at Jacksonville State, giving the Gamecocks some quality minutes at forward. Heard scored 14 points against his former team in JSU’s 75-53 loss.

TSU is led by its senior duo of Lamayn Wilson and Robert Rushing, both of whom were named to the preseason all-conference team. Wilson leads the Trojans in scoring and rebounding, averaging 19.3 points and 7.7 boards per game.

Rushing is averaging 18.7 points per game and leads the team in assists, averaging four per game.

"Robert and Lamayn have played as expected so far this year," said Maestri.

"Both have started off well and are experienced players.

Donnie Pemberton has really helped us as well, with four years of experience and knowing how to play the game."

The Trojans have had numerous players step up on different occasions in the first three games, like Herbert Evans’ 11 points off the bench against Kansas State, to Ben Fletcher’s 14 points in the first half against Marshall, to Jacob Hazouri’s nine points against Maine.

"We have gotten some great contributions from a lot of players," Maestri said.

"Ben Fletcher had four threes against Marshall which kept us in the game, Jacob hit three big three-pointers against Maine, and Herbert Evans got fouled on a three-pointer and hit three free throws to pull us back within two points of Kansas State.

Then we’ve gotten great defensive play from Lovell Craig, who has blocked a shot in every game, and Rob Lewin, who is shooting 60 percent from the field. We have also gotten some great play from Ced Pettway at the wing, making some big defensive stops for us down the stretch in the last two games."

Troy State has been bitten the injury bug early this season. Fletcher was injured in the second half against Marshall, suffering a foot injury and missed the rest of the game and sat out against Maine.

His status is uncertain for Thursday night’s game.

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Admission is $7 for reserved seats and $5 for general admission.