Champs once again

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 26, 2002

After defeating Jacksonville State on Saturday night, the Troy State men’s basketball team claimed a share of the 2002 Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season title, its second conference title in the past three seasons.

The Trojans entered last weekend’s play needing a sweep of in-state rivals Samford and Jacksonville State to claim a share of the title, and became the first team in the A-Sun to beat both teams on the road.

"Our players had to have wins at Samford and Jax State to get a conference title and they did that," Troy State head coach Don Maestri said.

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"No one in the league had won both games on that road trip, so we knew we had a big challenge.

I was really proud of our team to come out and win both games and win our second conference title in three years."

The Trojans claimed the 2000 A-Sun title with a 13-5 record, also tying Georgia State atop the standings.

Troy State and Georgia State finished with a 14-6 record in the A-Sun tying for the title.

The 2002 A-Sun title is the Trojans third since moving to Division I in 1993.

Seniors Robert Rushing and Donnie Pemberton became the first players in school history to play on two conference title teams in their careers.

"Robert and Donnie have done so much for this program over the past four years that they deserved another ring," Maestri said.

"Robert has played so well for us this year and he really stepped up in the second half for us.

Donnie has battled through a lot of injuries in his career and this is a great way to send him off."

For TSU to get a shot at the title, the Trojans had to beat Samford first.

Lamayn Wilson came out firing, scoring 22 of his game-high 29 points, to lead the Trojans to a 64-52 win, ending a 28-year winless drought in Birmingham.

"We played a complete basketball game tonight," said Troy State head coach Don Maestri. "We came out and got good shots and didn’t turn the ball over. I am really impressed with how well our team played the game of basketball tonight."

The win sent the Trojans to Jacksonville with a shot at tying Georgia State for the title.

Troy State came out focused, hitting 60 percent of their shots in the first half in taking a 45-22 lead at the half.

Wilson was at it again, scoring 23 of his game-high 33 points in the first half, while picking up his seventh double-double of the year with 10 rebounds.

Rushing added 19 points and five assists as well.

"Lamayn played really well for us again," Maestri said.

"We came out and hit a lot of shots and that took the pressure off of us.

We did a good job on the defensive end and that enabled us to be aggressive on offense."

Wilson would earn A-Sun Player of the Week honors for his efforts over the weekend.

"We needed someone to step up and make plays for us and he did," Maestri said.

"He’s been their when we’ve needed him all season and he showed why this weekend."

The two wins send the Trojans into the A-Sun Tournament as the No. 2 seed, where they will face No. 7 seed Jacksonville State in the first round of the tournament.

"We have to come back and focus on beating Jacksonville State," Maestri said.

"You can’t win the tournament if you don’t win the first game.

The team has set it focus on Jax State and we have to worry about them before we start thinking about anything else."

The Trojans will face off against JSU on Thursday afternoon at 12 noon (CST).