After a sluggish first half and furious rally in the final seconds, the Troy Trojans fell 75-72 to North Texas at home Thursday night.
The Mean Green led 71-66 with 39 seconds remaining, but Troy narrowed the lead to 75-72, and had the ball with 13 seconds left. Senior Brandon Hazzard was able to get up a 3-point attempt as time expired, but his shot clanged off the back iron to seal the North Texas win.
“North Texas, especially in the second half, maintained their composure,” said Troy head coach Don Maestri. “They were able to hold on, and you have to give them a lot of credit for that. They also did a good job of holding the ball more than they have at any other time this season, which made us play defense for long period of time.”
Vernon Taylor had the ball for Troy with 13 seconds remaining. Rather than going for the 3-point shot, he took the ball hard to the rim, where he was fouled and sent to the line for two shots with eight seconds left.
“We wanted to get a score,” Maestri said. “Too many times teams rush down and try to get a three when they’re down by four. I didn’t use to think so, but nine seconds is a long time in a basketball game.”
Unfortunately for Troy, Taylor missed both shots. The rebound went out of bounds off a North Texas player with 3.6 seconds left, setting up Hazzard’s miss.
Troy came in the second half trailing 33-26 and was outscored 12-4 over the final 3:15 of the first half.
The Mean Green closed out the first half with three made free throws form Tristan Thompson after Troy senior Richard Delk fouled Thompson in the act of a 3-point shot.
Troy shot just 37.5 percent in the first half, including just one made 3-pointer on nine attempts.
“We came out kind of flat, and I’m not really sure why,” said senior guard Michael Vogler.
“We played a really good second half, but they just made a few more plays at the end, and we didn’t.”
Maestri said he was not pleased with the team’s energy level in the first 20 minutes.
“It was disappointing for us to start without tremendous energy, especially at home when we had a good crowd,” Maestri said.
Troy shook thing up a bit to start the second half, opting to start the final 20 minutes with reserve players Taylor, Bernard Toombs and Levan Patsatsia rather than starters Hazzard, Antywan Jones and Yamene Coleman.
Taylor especially responded, scoring seven points in the first 1:04 to help cut the Mean Green lead to two.
“Coach just called my name at halftime, and I’ve been waiting a long time for him to do that,” Taylor said. “We didn’t have that much energy from the starters in the first half, and Coach wanted energy and that’s what I tried to give him.”
After the game, Maestri the lineup change at halftime was intended to give the team a spark, something Taylor was able to provide.
“You do need a spark sometimes, and I think it has to come from the players,” Maestri said.
“It can’t always come from the coaches. It can’t come from a Knute Rockne halftime speech. He (Taylor) did give us a spark. He has a high energy level all the time, whether it’s in practice or on the bus.”
Troy eventually tied the game at 41 with 15:10 left to play, but North Texas quickly responded with a 5-0 run that put the Mean Green up for good.
Five Trojans scored in double figures in the losing effort. Coleman had 14, Hazzard had 13, Vogler and Jones each added 12, while Taylor scored 11.
Despite the tough loss, Taylor said the team’s focus remains clear. “We’ll just come back tomorrow and work hard again,” Taylor said. “Every team’s going to win some and lose some. The key is just bouncing back.”
The Trojans will have their chance to bounce back this Saturday night on the road against South Alabama.