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Mississippi half-step

For just the second time in school history, the Troy Trojans will take the floor tonight in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament.

The No. 7 seed Trojans will take on No. 2 seed Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., with tip-off set for 7 p.m.

Troy qualified for the NIT after winning the Sun Belt regular season title, and must now deal with the challenge the Rebels will present.

“They’re very athletic, and they shoot the ball real well,” said Troy head coach Don Maestri. “Their leading scorer, Chris Warren, made over 100 3-pointers this season, so we’re in for a challenge.”

The meeting between the two schools will be the seventh all-time, with Ole Miss winning all six of the previous matchups.

The last time the Trojans and Rebels met on the hardwood was in 2007, when seniors Michael Vogler and Brandon Hazzard and redshirt junior Bernard Toombs were all sophomores.

“We played them three years ago in Oxford, and Warren hit five 3- pointers against us in that game,” Maestri said. But, Hazzard hit three 3-pointers, and both Vogler and Toombs played in that game, so it’s not like they’ve never seen the gym before.”

Both teams come into the game after disappointing conference tournament losses. Troy fell to North Texas 66-63 in the finals of the Sun Belt tournament, while Ole Miss was eliminated in the first round of the SEC tournament by Tennessee.

The Rebels were considered to be “on the bubble” of the NCAA Tournament prior to the Tennessee loss, but now find themselves in the NIT.

The Rebels have also had impressive outings this season, as they defeated Kansas State earlier in the year and took West Virginia to overtime, both of which are No. 2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

For Troy, Maestri said the Trojans must get back to playing good basketball.

“The thing for us is all of us have to play well,” Maestri said. “We haven’t played real well as a team since probably the Florida Atlantic game at home back on Feb. 20.”

Troy and Ole Miss played three like opponents this season in the form of Arkansas State, Arkansas-Little Rock and Auburn.

Troy went 3-0 against those teams, while Ole Miss went 4-0 with all four wins by 10 points or more.

Maestri said those impressive showings show him what Troy will need to do in order to extend the season. “The thing for us is since they are so athletic, we are going to have to really shoot the ball well and really execute in order to have some success,” Maestri said.