TSU lights up A-Sun foe Central Florida, 85-74

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 11, 2002

Sports Writer

The Troy State men’s basketball team knew how important its battle with the University of Central Florida would be for the stretch run in the Atlantic Sun race.

And the Trojans’ performance showed another run at an A-Sun title may be in the cards.

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TSU hit 16 three-pointers and shot 52 percent from the field for the game en route to an 85-74 win over the Golden Knights to improve to 4-2 in the A-Sun and 8-5 overall heading into a showdown with second-place Florida Atlantic Saturday.

"We shot the ball probably as good as we can shoot the ball in the first half," TSU head coach Don Maestri said. "The second half, this is a league, you’re not going to maintain 20 point leads, I don’t think, throughout the whole game. The teams are just too doggone good in the conference. I was happy to see our kids, when they did make a run, that they toughened up and finished the game out."

The Trojans jumped out to a 9-0 lead, thanks to seven points from Lemayn Wilson and four turnovers by UCF. Robert Rushing’s three-pointer with 13:17 left gave the Trojans a 16-7 lead. Wilson finished the half with 17 points, hitting 7-of-7 field goals, including three, three-pointers.

"I just came out and let it ride like I usually do, I felt confident with the shots and they were falling and it put us out to a good lead and we came out victorious," Wilson said.

TSU continued to build its advantage throughout the first half, increasing the lead to 34-16 with 7:46 remaining on a three-pointer from Ben Fletcher. But the Trojans were held scoreless for nearly four minutes as the Golden Knights trimmed the lead to 13 with under four minutes to go in the half.

Rushing knocked down another trey late in the half as TSU extended the lead to 49-34 at halftime. The Trojans hit nine three’s before intermission and shot 63 percent, while holding UCF to 38 percent shooting and forcing 13 turnovers.

The Golden Knights closed within 10 points with 13:15 to play in the second half on Paul Reed’s basket, but TSU responded with a 12-2 run, nine points coming from Fletcher and a three-point play by Lovell Craig as the Trojans built its biggest lead of the night, 73-53. Reed, who came into the game averaging 14.4 points a game, was held to seven points on 2-of-7 shooting.

"This kid (Reed) is one of the top rebounders in the league, top scorers in the league, I thought Pemberton did a good job, Craig did a good job in there, Pettway, Millhouse even Lemayn on the boards," Maestri said. "We played a good defensive game too. But when you shoot it well, you normally play better defense.

UCF cut the lead to 12 on an 8-0 spurt with 7:20 to go, but a technical foul on Reed and free throws by Trojans’ Donnie Pemberton and Lacedrick Pettway allowed TSU to increase the advantage to 78-61 with 5:24 left.

The Golden Knights made one final run, slicing the lead back to single digits for the first time since early in the first half, but the Trojans responded, as they did all night with Rushing and Wilson each hitting big shots down the stretch to pull away for victory.

Wilson lead TSU with 20 points while Fletcher added 17. Pemberton and Rushing were also in double figures with 16 and 14 respectively. Rushing also dished out seven assists.

Joey Graham scored 20 points for UCF and Ray Abellard chipped in 17.

"I knew they were going to make a run," Wilson said. "Coach told us in the locker room they were going to make a run so we just settled down. We had a couple of turnovers, we slacked down on those, slowed the game down and came out on top,"

Wilson, facing double teams for most of the second half, struggled, hitting just one shot in six attempts after intermission, but Maestri said he was proud of Wilson for not forcing the issue.

"That’s one of the reason’s I was proud of Lemayn," he said. "When you have 17 at half, you can start thinking, well this is a 30 point night. He played the second half to win the game. He made two or three excellent passes, a couple to Fletcher on the opposite side of the court for wide-open three’s, which maintained at least a 10-12 point lead for us during that stretch. And that’s hard for a guy who’s an offensive scorer to do."

"He really likes to win the game. When you play to win, you have to give up certain things and they were doubling him every time he caught it," Maestri continued. "But we didn’t do a good job early in the second half of getting him the basketball, I thought there were two or three times we could have thrown it to him."

Fletcher, who hit five, three-pointers, said when the Trojans shoot the ball well, good things usually happen.

"We had games like this against Belmont and Campbell and with those two games, we came out with big victories. And it seems like whenever we have a big night shooting, we win."

The Trojans now must turn its focus to the Owls, who come into the game with a 6-6 A-Sun mark and two of the better in the league in Raheim Brown and Jeff Cowans.

"These next three or four games are going to be real big for us," Fletcher said. "If we can squeeze out this one last home game before we go on the road, that will help us. Florida Atlantic is a real good team, right now they’re in the front of the pack, if we can get them now, I think that will pave our road."