Gamecocks just plain crashed the Troy State party

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 1, 2002

Sports Editor

There is…

No, wait. Let me start this off

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in capital letters for added emphasis:

THERE IS…absolutely no reason why the TSU men’s basketball team should be coming home this early from the A-Sun tournament.

None at all.

Twice this season, the Trojans had beaten rival Jacksonville State. TSU sent the Gamecocks packing from Trojan Arena prior to Christmas with a 70-52 fanny-whipping. One week ago they claimed a share of the A-Sun title with another such spanking, 79-60, on JSU’s homecourt.

No one saw this game coming.

The Gamecocks got above-average scoring efforts from everyone but head coach Mike LaPlante and JSU ended Troy State’s year with a 69-62 shocker.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. TSU should have been able to dial in the cruise control against Jax State and look ahead to the second round – a probable tougher contest against either Jacksonville or Florida Atlantic.

It was rebounding that finally did the Trojans in. Losing the boards 33-18 to the JSU was just too much to overcome. Troy State spent the majority of the season out-shooting opponents and playing hardnosed defense. Neither were particularly effective on Thursday as Jax State placed four players in double figures and the Trojans couldn’t convert a field goal when they needed one.

Auburn-transfer Jay Heard had become something of a "fat joke" at Jacksonville State. As a sophomore he’d played in the NCAA tournament with the Tigers and was known as the "Microwave" for his ability to seemingly score at will. Of late, the only thing he’d been heating up were frozen pizzas and meatball subs.

Heard came to play on Thursday. He finished with 19 points and somehow found his 3-point shot, knocking down three straight in the second half. Just a 69 percent foul shooter, he also went 4-of-4 from the free throw line in the final minute of the game.

And favored to possibly win it all and go dancing afterwards, Troy State just got beat. The light was at the end of the tunnel, but it was an oncoming train full of Gamecocks.

At the opening tip, and without even realizing it,

TSU fans in attendance were watching seniors Lemayn Wilson, Robert Rushing and Donnie Pemberton play their last game in a Trojan uniform.

Games like this are what make basketball so exciting. Games like this are also what makes basketball so depressing.

Some may hold out hope that the NIT, with an expanded field for 2002, would give the Trojans a look when bids are handed out in mid-March.

TSU assistant coach David Felix didn’t think so.

"We thought the only way the NIT would look at us," Felix said, "was if we made it all the way to the championship game and lost. That would have given us 20 wins and plus we’d be conference co-champions. Now, I think our season is pretty much over."

Still, the Trojans’ ride was fun while it lasted.

Too bad it got carjacked.