Last second tip-in by Wilson saves Trojans

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 10, 2002

Sports Editor

Troy State head basketball coach Don Maestri had a simple statement to make as he made his way to press row following Saturday night’s 65-64 Atlantic Sun win over Belmont in Trojan Arena:

"It’s nice to be lucky."

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Senior forward Lemayn Wilson finished with a team-high 28 points against the Bruins, but he saved his biggest basket for the last second of the game, catching a loose ball in the lane among a crowd of Belmont and TSU players and sinking the shot as the buzzer sounded.

Belmont had just went up by one on Chad Caterson’s foul shot with eight seconds left in the contest.

TSU guard Robert Rushing quickly pushed the ball down the court and shot a falling-down jumper from the right baseline. Both teams crashed the boards for the rebound, but Wilson came up with it for the buzzer-beater.

The win extended Troy State’s lead in the Atlantic Sun to a game and a half.

The Trojans are now 15-7 overall and a league-best 11-4 in conference play.

"Sometimes the ball just bounces your way," said Don Maestri. "We lost at Florida Atlantic on a tip-in, but we won tonight on one. We didn’t shoot the ball well, but we played good enough on defense to compensate for that."

Following the dramatic victory, Wilson was mobbed by his teammates at centercourt and a pile of Trojan players quickly formed on the floor.

Rushing said he was trying to take the ball inside for a layup, but the Bruins’ defense quickly collapsed on the senior, forcing his desperation jumper.

"It felt pretty good," said Rushing about the shot. "Then I’m on the floor and all I see is them tipping the ball. I didn’t know who tipped it (in), but then I found out Lemayn tipped it because he was at the bottom of the pile so I ran and jumped on the pile."

Wilson said both teammates Herbert Evans and Lacedrick Pettway each got their hands on the ball before he caught it for the rebound and the shot.

"It fell in my hands and I just let it go," he said. "Fortunately it fell."

Wilson had good reason to be worried.

Up by only three at the half, 34-31, the Trojans suffered through a four minute scoring drought in the second, which allowed Belmont and hot shooting forward Wes Burtner to take their first lead of the game and increase that advantage to as many as 10 points. With the Trojans struggling from both the field and the foul line, Belmont knocked down five straight three-pointers and went up 52-42 with 12:11 left in the game.

But with the shots not falling, Troy State went to work defensively.

The Trojans took advantage of nine second-half Belmont turnovers to get back into the game. Rushing had six steals on the night and his pick with 7:43 left and the subsequent layup, cut Belmont’s edge to 57-54. Wilson tied the game one minute later and gave Troy State back the lead with a fadeaway jumper at the 4:18 mark of the second half.

A two-pointer by B.J. Proffitt put the Bruins on top 63-61 with 1:35 remaining.

Two free throws by Wilson knotted the score again on the Trojans’ next trip down the court.

The Trojans had led by as many as 11 points in the early going of the first period, before Belmont used the three-point range of Burtner to make a game of it heading into intermission.

Burtner finished with a game-high 30 points.

"Honestly, we do have the tendency to relax a little bit when we jump out on teams early," said Rushing. "He (Burtner) shot the ball really well and that’s how they got up on us, just on his shooting."

But Maestri was especially pleased with the way his team responded after falling behind by 10 in the second half.

"We didn’t panic," he said. "I’m very proud of the way they handled themselves when we fell behind. But we do feel very fortunate to have won this ball game."

The Trojans next play at Mercer on Monday night. Game time is at 6:30 p.m.