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Trojans top Golden Panthers, Thomas

FIU may have been the smaller and less talented team in Trojan Arena Saturday night, but it provided Troy with all it could handle.

The Trojans had to come from behind in the final five minutes to defeat the Golden Panthers and head coach Isiah Thomas 81-78 and keep their Eastern Division title hopes alive.

“We’re very happy and very fortunate to win,” said Troy head coach Don Maestri. “I just think it’s always important no matter how you play and no matter how the other team plays that you come out on top, and we did that tonight.”

The Golden Panthers trailed 80-78 with 17 seconds left and had the ball, but Marvin Roberts missed a lay-up with five seconds left that would have tied the game.

Antywan Jones secured the rebound to seal the win for Troy.

Troy trailed 75-72 with 4:25 left to play, but switched to a smaller lineup in an effort to better match up with FIU.

The move paid off, as Troy went on a 6-0 run to take the lead for good at 78-75 with 2:46 left to play.

“We just wanted to speed the game up over the last eight minutes or so, so we went small,” Maestri said. “We hadn’t had to do that this season, but this was the first time a team has gone all small on us, and the guys did a good job of responding.”

Senior guard Michael Vogler said the team knew it had to respond when Maestri made the change.

“There just came a point where we knew we had to turn it on or else we were going to lose,” Vogler said. “We did that, and we were able to make the plays we needed to come out with the win.”

FIU had been content to eat up clock for most of the second half, something that had the Trojans completely out of rhythm offensively.

“They were holding the ball on us there in the second half,” Maestri said. “They passed and passed and passed. They kept us on defense, which made us lose our offensive energy. So, we switched to man in an effort to speed the game up. Everybody who has watched us play knows we play better when we play faster.”

Troy led 45-38 at halftime, and appeared to be having its way with FIU’s tight man defense. The Trojans got to the rim early and often, scoring 22 points in the paint in the first half and 42 for the game.

“I thought they did a good job defensively putting pressure on us, but I also thought Vogler and Brandon Hazzard did a great job of dealing with that pressure and sometimes even getting to the basket,” Maestri said. “The one thing you have to do with an aggressive defense is attack.”

FIU came out firing to start the game, hitting its first three 3-pointers to take a 9-2 lead.

Troy would respond with some sharp shooting of its own, however, as Brandon Hazzard hit three consecutive 3-pointers and Vogler added a trey of his own to give Troy a 24-15 lead with 11:40 left in the first half.

Troy had five scorers in double figures, as Vogler scored 19, Hazzard had 18, Richard Delk provided 13, and Jones and Yamene Coleman added 10 each. Coleman had 12 rebounds to go along with his 10 points, giving him a double-double.

Troy will have a chance to take over first place in the Sun Belt’s Eastern Division Thursday at home against division-leading Middle Tennessee.