Troy State earns bid to NCAA tourney

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 8, 2003

ATLANTA - Troy State did not shoot well from outside during the first two Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament games.

The shooting came alive in the championship game as Troy State (26-5) won the tournament championship with an 80-69 win over Central Florida (21-11).

The Trojans shot 47 percent from three-point range in the first half on their way to a big first-half lead and held on for the victory. Troy State earned its first trip to the NCAA Division I basketball tournament that begins March 20.

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"We are extremely happy to conference tournament champions," said Troy State head coach Don Maestri. "We won the conference championship and were excited about that, but we needed to win this tournament to get to the NCAA tournament."

Troy State played the late game Thursday and Friday night and had to be ready for the title game that started at 11 a.m.

Saturday. However, the Trojans were not the team that looked tired.

Troy State blitzed the Knights in the first four minutes to take a 17-6 lead only 4:28 into the game. Atlantic Sun Conference MVP Ben Fletcher scored 10 points during that run. He finished with a career-high 29 points and hit four-of-10 from three-point range. He only scored six points in the tournament opener against Samford and 11 against Georgia State.

"I just wanted to do what I could to help my team," Fletcher said."Today, I didn't want to go home. I wanted to get the ball."

Rob Lewin and Greg Davis were also named to the All-Tournament Team, and finished with 17 and nine points respectively. Lewin, who missed seven free throws in 12 attempts in Friday's 71-61 win over Georgia State, was almost perfect from the line Saturday. He hit 11-of-12 from the line.

"Coach told me (Friday) night that I would have to play more physical," Lewin said. "I didn't have a good shooting night (Friday), but I wanted to do what I could to help the team."

Once again, the Trojans won with their defense. They forced 19 turnovers 27 points off those turnovers. Troy State forced UCF point guard Ray Abellard into five turnovers. Abellard still managed to score 16 points in the game, but the Trojans limited him to eight shots.

"Ray Abellard is one of the best shooters in the country, not just in the Atlantic Sun," Maestri said. "We had to limit his offense as much as possible."

Troy State led by as much as 16 in the first half and held a 51-38 lead at the break. The Trojans pushed the lead to 17 twice in the second half but saw the lead shrink to six with 1:18 to play. Abellard fouled Davis with 51 seconds remaining and Davis hit one of two free throws. Abellard fouled out on the play and the Trojans hit free throws down the stretch. Troy State shot 83 percent from the line.

"When you work so hard to put yourself in a position to win and your season ends like this, it hurts," UCF head coach Kirk Speraw said. "This one will sit with me for a long time."

Abellard was named to the All-Tournament team as was fellow Golden Knight Ed Dotson who shot 89 percent from the field Saturday to score 19 points. Georgia State's Nate Williams was the other member of the team.