No place like home
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 23, 2002
Troy State returns to Trojan Arena for crucial three-game homestand
By KEVIN PEARCEY
Troy State men’s head basketball coach Don Maestri said his team can’t afford to take anything for granted.
Even with lowly Mercer (3-15 overall, 1-8 A-Sun) coming into Trojan Arena tonight.
"I don’t know what it is about our games with Mercer, but they always seem to go down to the wire," Maestri said. "The two games we played against them last year did and the games we played against them the year before did also."
The two teams split a pair of games during the 1999-2000 season. TSU won the A-Sun title that year, but was eliminated by the Bears in the first game of the conference tournament, 79-75.
Troy State won both contests last season 83-72 and 61-56.
"I think we’re going to have to come out and play really well, which is the case in all of our league games," he said. "Anyone that’s followed basketball long enough knows that anyone can win a game on any giving night."
Mercer was picked to finish anywhere from fourth to sixth in the preseason Atlantic Sun polls, but injuries have reduced head coach Mark Slonaker’s squad down to only nine scholarship players.
Two-time All-Conference player Scott Emerson (15.8 ppg) was lost for the year in early December after having surgery to remove bone spurs and tighten ligaments in his ankle. Freshmen All-Conference selection Wesley Duke had knee surgery prior to the beginning of the season and freshman Brad Arthur left the team for personal reasons.
"They’ve have bad luck with injuries and are going through some tough times right now," said Maestri. "But they’re still capable of beating anyone in this league."
After a redshirt season, junior guard Aleem Muhammed has returned to the Bears’ lineup and is currently averaging 15.7 points per outing.
"He can drive to the basket and shoot the three," said Maestri. "They’ve also got a point guard, Clarence Baker, who’s quick and can also shoot the ball well."
Baker led his junior college team to the Final Four.
The Trojans had a four-game conference winning streak snapped last Saturday against first place Jacksonville, 74-71.
"It was just one of those games where both teams committed a lot of fouls," said Maestri. "It kept stopping the game and took the rhythm out of the game, and I think that had something to do with both teams not shooting the ball well. The officials called a lot of fouls, but they were legitimate fouls. The game was very physical and both teams were aggressive on the defensive end."
The Dolphins held Troy State’s leading scorer, Lamayn Wilson, to just four points before fouling out. In all, Troy State racked up 26 fouls in the contest and two players foul out and three others ended the game with four fouls.
The Trojans got significant contributions from their bench, with Rob Lewin picking up his first double-double of the season, scoring 17 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. Lovell Craig also scored 10 points off the bench. The entire bench combined for 38 points against the Dolphins.
"Rob’s contributions were a real positive for our team," Maestri said. "He did a great job on defense, rebounding and made a couple of baskets for us. I wish he had shot free throws better, going 5-for-11, but Rob and Lovell kept us in the game while Lamayn was on the bench."
In the loss, Robert Rushing scored 15 points, moving him past Rhodney Donaldson atop the Troy State Division I career scoring list. Rushing now has 1,372 points in his career, passing the mark of 1,363 points, set by Donaldson, who starred for Troy State from 1993 to 1997. Rushing is now seventh on the all-time points list.
"Robert has had an outstanding career," Maestri said. "He has accomplished a lot of things in his four years at Troy State. He has played extremely well this season at the point guard and has a chance of setting even more records before he leaves Troy State."
TSU (10-6 overall, 6-3 A-Sun) is now fourth in the league, behind the Dolphins and Samford, who are tied for first. Florida Atlantic is third with a 7-3 conference mark.
The game tonight with Mercer is the first of a three-game homestand for the Trojans. Troy State also hosts Stetson on Saturday and Jacksonville on Monday, which means the Trojans could find themselves sitting at the top of the league standings sometimes early next week.
But Maestri feels that there was too much emphasis placed on the Trojans last game against Jacksonville. A win in that game would have also pushed Troy State to first.
"I think we’re back to a one-game mentality," he said. "We’re just going to take one game at a time. But we know if we play well tonight, it will help us and carry over into the next game."
Tip-off is at 7 p.m. against Mercer.
– TSU SID contributed to this report