Trojans take on Jaguars in pivotal double-header

Published 9:15 pm Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Troy men’s and women’s basketball teams will have plenty to play for when in-state rival South Alabama comes to Trojan Arena on Saturday afternoon.

With just five regular season games remaining on both schedules, the Troy women and men are vying for seeds in the upcoming conference tournament.

“We are one game behind South and we need to try and fight to get back in this thing,” said men’s head coach Phil Cunningham. “We have the home crowd advantage, we have our students out here and the guys are excited about the game.”

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The Troy women enter the game with an 18-6 overall record and are 9-4 in Sun Belt Conference play. They find themselves just two games behind Little Rock for first place in the conference and just one game ahead of South Alabama.

The men find themselves fighting for their tournament lives. They enter the game 11-14 overall and 4-9 in conference play. They currently find themselves in last place in the conference and are in danger of missing the tournament. They are one game behind 10-seeded Little Rock. The top 10 teams make the conference tournament.

“There is still time,” Cunningham said. “We just need to find a way to string a few wins together.”

This weekend’s game marks the second time this season that the two teams played the Jaguars in a double header. The Trojans were swept in Mobile on February 2. The Trojan women’s 81-75 loss to the Jaguars took them out of the top spot in the conference.

“When we went over to South Alabama we dropped the game in the last minutes of the game and it dropped us out of first place in the conference standings,” said women’s head coach Chanda Rigby. “It was rocking in there. I really felt like that had something to do with it. This week is important because we are back to a double-header. We hope that same advantage that they had at their place, we will have at our place.”

The Trojans, who have relied on winning the rebound battle against their opponents, ended up tied in overall rebounds with the Jaguars.

“I have never thought I would have to say this about the team, but we had to get our want-to corrected,” Rigby said. “They got more 50/50 balls, they got more rebounds off the free throw line. The way we got to where we are is having an underdog spirit. We are returning to having an underdog spirit and we are going to come out fighting for this.”

The Troy men will be playing in their fifth game without leading scorer Jordon Varnado. The senior is fighting concussion symptoms after leaving practice prior to Troy’s game against Little Rock. The Trojans are 1-3 since Varnado went down with the injury.

“It’s still up in the air,” Cunningham said. “We have to prepare to play with or without him. Right now we are prepared to play without him if we need to.”

Both Trojan teams have had time to do a lot of preparing. Both teams last played on Saturday, giving them a week to prepare for the crucial showdown with their in-state rival.

“It’s different (than the last time playing south) because back then we had Jordon,” Cunningham said. “It’s been a week that has allowed us to practice a little more. We probably practiced more than normal teams do because, in a sense, we are recreating ourselves.”

“I think we all needed a day off; we took a day off yesterday (Wednesday), Rigby said. “Coaches went out recruiting, players were able to meet with instructors and tutors. It also gave us a breath to say what are things down the stretch that we will need to win. We were able to work on some things more than we would if we were just preparing for another team in two days.”

The Trojan women will begin the double header at 2 p.m. with the men taking the court around 4:15. A win against their in-state rival would go a long way to building confidence and momentum.

“It would give us some confidence,” Cunningham said. “We need some confidence right now. The guys love to play and they see it as an opportunity to play. The crowd will energize them and our guys will be ready to go.”