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Published 8:34 pm Wednesday, December 16, 2009

With an eight-game road stretch now behind them, the Troy Trojans will now turn their attention to tonight’s Sun Belt opener against New Orleans.

“All conference games are important, whether it’s the first one, one of the ones in between or the last one,” said head coach Don Maestri. “Conference games are games we place more emphasis on than out-of-conference games.”

Fortunately for Troy, the conference opener will be played within the friendly confines of Trojan Arena, something Maestri said is a relief.

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“Obviously, it’s good to get back home,” Maestri said. “It doesn’t guarantee you’ll have success, but it’s nice to play in your own place again.”

New Orleans comes into Trojan Arena at 5-4 overall and 0-1 in SBC play, having already lost its conference opener to Florida Atlantic Monday.

Troy, meanwhile, is 5-5 and looking to snap a two-game losing streak.

“When you compare New Orleans to us, we’re kind of similar in that they had losses to Georgia and North Carolina State and we had losses to Florida and UAB,” Maestri said. “But, they had a big win over Tulane, which is like our big win over Auburn.”

Billy Humphrey, a senior transfer from Georgia, leads the Privateers.

“He was one of the guys who helped lead Georgia to the SEC Championship a couple of years back, so he’s got big game experience,” Maestri said.

Humphrey is averaging 17.8 points per game and is shooting 41.5 percent from the field, including 30.4 percent from 3-point range.

“Humphrey’s an outstanding offensive player, and they’ve done a nice job of putting a solid supporting cast around him,” Maestri said.

Defensively, the Privateers have held their opponents to 63.1 points per game and a shooting percentage of 39.3 percent.

“They’re a very good man-to-man defensive team, and they are well-schooled in that area of the game,” Maestri said. “They will play well on defense, but they are also a threat on the offensive end.”

Besides being the conference opener, the game is also significant because it could be the final time New Orleans comes to Troy as a member of the Sun Belt.

With the school’s athletic department facing financial hardships, reports have indicated the administration is considering a move to Division III.

“UNO basketball is a big thing in that city, and it was even when I was in high school there,” Maestri said. “That’s a team with great tradition. They’ve won conference titles and been to the NCAAs and the NIT. It would be sad to see all that end. I really hope they stay Division I.”

Despite the potential historic significance of the game, Troy is focused on the task at hand.

Maestri said the Trojans have yet to really get in sync this season, and hopes that changes soon.

“We just haven’t had everybody on the same page this season, except for maybe twice,” Maestri said. “Against Valparaiso and Auburn, we had the entire team do a good job of not just scoring, but rebounding and playing good defense as well.”

That kind of play is something the Trojans will need if they hope to contend in the Sun Belt.

“We need to play those kinds of games consistently if we hope to have some success in this league,” Maestri said.

New Orleans and Troy tip off at 7 p.m. tonight at Trojan Arena.