Trojans tumble: Troy’s bid for second consecutive win comes up short with 90-82 loss to Georgia Southern

Published 9:59 pm Thursday, January 17, 2019

After splitting a trip through Arkansas, the Troy men’s basketball team returned home in hopes of keeping its head above water in the Sun Belt against the Georgia Southern Eagles.

Both teams entered the game at 2-2 in conference play but it was the Eagles who left afloat with a 90-82 win. Georgia Southern forced Troy into its high-speed style as the game ran to 77 possessions.

The Trojans had gotten off to some slow starts in recent games and this one was no different. Georgia Southern guard Tookie Brown compounded the issue by opening the game a blistering 4-4 from the field, including three buckets from long range.

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Using a 7-0 run, Georgia Southern jumped out to a 17-8 lead at the first media timeout. The Eagles hit six of their first eight shots while Troy was just 3-9.

Troy settled in and began to make headway into Georgia Southern’s lead as soon as Brown was subbed out of the game.

The Trojans got three of their next four shots to drop and trimmed the Eagle lead to 26-20 following a Zay Williams dunk.

That slam was a part of an 11-4 run that Williams contributed five points toward. That spurt pulled Troy to within three at the nine minute mark.

The Eagles put together a quick 6-0 run but Troy guard KJ Simon ended it with a thunderous two-handed slam over Calvin Wishart, who was making his first career start for Georgia Southern.

After a quick rest, Simon returned to the floor and tied the game by converting an and-one opportunity.

Troy forward Jordan Varnado parlayed that shot into a three to give the Trojans their first lead of the game, 43-40.

The Trojans held onto the lead until halftime, when the team’s hit the locker room with Troy in front 44-43. Georgia Southern led for 16:31 seconds of the first half.

Varnado led Troy with 13 first half points while eight of nine Trojans who saw the floor saw a bucket drop for them. Brown paced the Eagles with 13 on 5-8 shooting.

The two squads traded baskets for the opening five minutes of the second half and entered the first media timeout tied at 51.

Georgia Southern began pulling away again thanks to six Troy turnovers in a four minute span. A 13-2 run launched the Eagles to a 64-53 lead with 11:56 remaining in the game.

Simon attempted to spark the Trojans with a breakaway slam off of a steal but the green light was on for Georgia Southern.

The Eagles hit eight consecutive field goal attempts and maintained its double-digit lead well into the final 10 minutes of the game.

To the Trojans’ credit, Troy weathered the storm well. Nearly every Eagle basket was followed by points on the other end. With 3:50 left to play, Georgia Southern held an 81-72 lead.

“(Georgia Southern) is one of those teams that tries to outscore you and the higher the possessions the higher chance they have of winning,” Troy head coach Phil Cunningham said after the game. “I thought we hung around enough, but I never thought we got into a flow where we were about to turn a corner.”

Varnado scored five points in between long Eagles possessions, bringing Troy to within six at the 1:14 mark.

David-Lee Jones then hit a three but was quickly answered by a long-ball from Varnado. Troy forced the Eagles into a turnover but guard BJ Miller missed a contested layup.

Brown hit a pair of free throws to ice the game and the Eagles escaped Trojan Arena with a victory.

Varnado tied his season-high with 32 points on 12-21 shooting. He also grabbed 10 rebounds to notch his fifth double-double of the year.

Simon also had a season-high tying performance, scoring nine points on a perfect 4-4 shooting. He filled the stat sheet with four rebounds, three assists and three steals.

“I try to be active and keep my energy,” Simon said following the game. “Rebounds, steals, scoring if I need to but I try to find my teammates, too.”

Darian Adams had a bounce-back night, scoring 12 points on 4-7 shooting after making just two shots in 10 attempts over the previous two games.

Brown led Georgia Southern with 19 points and five assists. He hit three of five from beyond the arc, leading the Sun Belt’s second-worst three-point shooting team to a 10-19 showing from deep.

“(Brown) is tough,” Simon said. “I understand why he’s first team all-conference.”

Cunningham touched on both the positives and negatives of the eight-point loss.

“We got down early in the half and stormed back,” Cunningham said. “I was really proud of the way our guys came back. I thought we had a couple freshman, KJ Simon and Zay Williams, really energize us.

“We came out in the second half and just never got in any type of flow on either side of the ball. (Georgia Southern) got in a great rhythm. They went to that 1-3-1 and we really struggled.”

Troy gets one day of rest before playing the Sun Belt’s first place team, Georgia State, on Saturday.

“(Georgia State) is a unique team right now,” Cunningham said. “They’re playing five guards and their starting center is basically a wing so they’re a real tough matchup.”

That game will tipoff at 2 pm in Trojan Arena as Troy looks to avoid a 2-4 start to Sun Belt play.