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Troy State wins A-Sun title; going to #039;Big Dance#039;

ATLANTA – Ten years ago, Troy State advanced to the championship game of the NCAA Division II Tournament.

Saturday, the Trojans earned their first berth in the Division I Tournament by winning the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament with an 80-69 win over Central Florida.

While some people may think Saturday's accomplishment is bigger than the one 10 years ago, TSU head coach Don Maestri is inclined to disagree.

"The feeling is the same," Maestri said. "When we played for the Division II national title, our kids were as happy as these kids were today."

Troy State's team had plenty of reasons to be excited Saturday. In a season when everyone said the conference was very balanced, the Trojans won three straight games by double-digit margins. They won in whatever fashion was necessary, whether that meant finishing the Georgia State game on a 15-0 run over the final 6:47 or shooting 40 percent from three-point range in the final.

Troy State was the best team all season and was the best team in Atlanta Saturday.

But the 10 intervening years between NCAA Tournament appearances have not always been easy.

"Don Maestri has done an excellent job over the past 10 years," TSU Athletics Director Johnny Williams said. "The basketball team was hit the hardest by the move to Division I and Don has done a great job."

Troy State had to endure a five-year probationary period when the school moved to Division I in 1993 and would have had to deal with an even longer period if the NCAA had not shortened the probation.

Five years ago, Troy State was ranked No. 300 in the nation because of the probation.

Now, the basketball program has accomplished what Williams called the biggest moment in Troy State sports history.

"The NCAA Tournament is so big, it transcends sports," Williams said. "The moms and pops on the street who don't watch basketball know what 'March Madness' is. Now, since we're the first team to clinch a spot in the tournament, we will be mentioned all week on television. The possibilities for exposure are amazing."

Williams said he hopes to gain even more exposure on "Selection Sunday." Since Troy State is already assured a spot in the tournament, the Trojans will hold a pep rally March 16 at 5 p.m. in Trojan Arena. Everyone is invited to watch the selection show on a big-screen television.

"We're hoping to have a larger crowd than we did for the Nebraska pep rally," Williams said. "We also hope ESPN will televise it because of its novelty."