Tied at the top

Published 10:40 pm Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Troy Trojans knew they could move into a tie for first place in the Sun Belt’s Eastern Division with a win over division-leading Middle Tennessee Thursday night.

What the Trojans didn’t expect, however, was that they would move into a tie for first place in the entire Sun Belt Conference.

However, that’s just what happened when Troy beat MTSU 66-62 Thursday when previous conference leader Arkansas State fell to Louisiana-Lafayette 56-54.

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“It was a very important win for us obviously because of our standings, but it was also a big win for the Sun Belt Conference,” said Troy head coach Don Maestri.

“There are now five teams with identical records of 10-5 and everybody has three games left, so it’s going to be one whirlwind finish for this conference.”

Troy led by as many as 13 in the second half before the Blue Raiders made a furious comeback. MTSU cut the lead to three with 1:36 left to play, but missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game with 31 seconds left.

From there, the Trojans were able to close the game out from the charity stripe.

It looked as if MTSU would control the game early on, as the Trojans missed eight of their first nine shots, enabling the Blue Raiders to take an early 9-2 lead.

By the end of the half, however, it was Troy who led 29-28.

While Delk had seven points in the first half, it was reserve center Bernard Toombs who led the Trojans at halftime with eight points.

Toombs played extensive first-half minutes due in large part to foul trouble for starting center Yamene Coleman.

“Really, when my number was called, I was ready,” Toombs said. “I just gave it my all on the defensive end, and that carries over to the offensive end.”

Maestri said he had told Toombs he needed to step up earlier in the week.

“He hadn’t been playing real well these last few games, and I just told him he had to get his mind in the game,” Maestri said. “When he’s focused, Bernard Toombs is as good a rebounder as anybody else in this league.”

“He really gives us a major lift on the boards and defensively. He’s one of the best defensive centers in this league.

“But, the thing about him is he has great hands. When Vogler makes some of those Houdini magician passes, he can catch them and finish.”

Troy returns to action Saturday against Florida Atlantic in a matchup of two of the Sun Belt’s top five teams.