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Sun Belt success

Troy got its Sun Belt slate off to a good start Thursday night, defeating New Orleans 78-76 at Trojan Arena.

“This is the first time we’ve ever been 1-0 in the Sun Belt,” said head coach Don Maestri. “It was a big win for us, but it was a tough win. That’s good because we’re in for a lot of tough games. I don’t see anyone leaving this season until the final horn. It was important to win this tough one, because we’re going to be in a lot more tough ones.”

Senior Michael Vogler said the initial conference win could be a spark for something more.

“It’s big because you never want to start off with a loss. It was a good win for us, and hopefully we can go undefeated,” Vogler said.

The Trojans (6-5, 1-0) had to overcome a career-best performance by UNO’s Billy Humphrey, who scored 31 points to lead all scorers.

Troy countered the Privateers’ one-man show with a balanced offensive attack that saw four Trojans score in double figures.

Michael Vogler led the way with 19 points, while Vernon Taylor added 14, Brandon Hazzard scored 13 and Yamene Coleman scored 11. Antywan Jones scored nine points on three made 3-pointers, and Levan Patsatsia added seven.

Jones’ three 3-pointers tied a career high for a single game.

“He’s been shooting the ball a lot better lately,” Vogler said. “He spent all summer working on that aspect of his game, and it’s really starting to show.”

Troy needed contributions from the entire team, as senior Richard Delk scored just four points on 1-6 shooting. Delk came into the game averaging 14.5 points per game.

Taylor was key, as he provided a spark off the bench.

“I definitely feel like I’m the spark of the team,” Taylor said. “If I’m coming in, I just know I have to pick it up for Delk or Hazzard or Vogler or Jones or whoever might be struggling at the time. I just do the dirty work and pick up the slack.”

The bench contributions were something Maestri said had not been seen yet this season.

“For the first time in 11 games this season, those guys on the bench came in and outperformed some of the guys that started,” Maestri said.

Initially, the game looked as if it would be a blowout. Troy jumped out to a 16-point lead in the first half before Humphrey caught fire to lead a New Orleans run.

From the 8:31 mark in the first half to the 19:07 mark in the second half, UNO outscored Troy 30-6, with Humphrey scoring 15 of those points.

“We just did a poor job letting New Orleans back in the game,” Maestri said. “They were not playing well at all to start off and we got out to that big lead, but we just started going through the motions. That first half was one of the worst efforts I’ve seen from a Troy team in several years.”

Vogler said the team knew it was underperforming in the first half.

“We just got kind of lazy,” Vogler said. “We thought they’d just roll over and die, and they didn’t do that.”

Troy trailed by as many as eight in the second half before staging its comeback.

The Trojans tied the game at 50 before Humphrey converted a lay-up to put UNO back up by two. From that point, however, Troy went on a 9-0 run to take the lead for good at 59-52.

UNO would cut the lead to one on a 3-pointer from Devin McDonald with two seconds remaining, and fouled Hazzard with 1.2 left to stop the clock.

Hazzard hit one of two free throws, but UNO was unable to get a final shot off, securing the conference win for Troy.

Troy will now go on a break until Dec. 28, when they return home for a game against Marshall.