All In: Tough Trojans off to historic start

Published 9:02 am Wednesday, November 16, 2022

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The Troy Trojans (3-0) are coming off one of the biggest regular season wins in school history this week against Florida State and are gearing up for a long road trip.

Troy dominated the ACC’s Florida State on Monday, giving the Trojans’ their first win against a Power 5 school since 2012 and the school its first 3-0 start since 1992. That 1992-1993 team would go on to finish as Division II runner-up, the school’s final year before moving to Division I.

“Last night was one of the most amazing wins I’ve ever been a part of,” Troy coach Scott Cross said. “Our guys were really, really tenacious defensively throughout the game and we played together as a team.

Zay Williams (10) dunks. (Photo courtesy of Troy University Athletics)

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“Our guys made the extra pass and made their teammates better. It was one of those program-defining wins and I think this win can definitely catapult this program. It showed a glimpse of what we can be and I think we’ll continue to get better. We have great leadership on our team and the guys are buying in, so I’m excited to see where this team goes throughout the year.”

All offseason, Cross and his players have talked about how close the team has been since taking a trip to Costa Rica in the summer, and he said that togetherness is helping propel his group, especially on defense.

“You can see how connected our guys are defensively,” Cross emphasized. “A lot of times guys can be as selfish defensively as they are offensively if they don’t help each other. Our team, everyone has each other’s back.

“I think the Costa Rica trip really helped build those bonds where teammates help each other. You can see that on the offensive end of the floor, as well.”

Senior leader Kieffer Punter pointed out that the Trojans genuinely like each other, which makes it easy to come together as a team.

“We have a good group of guys, not just as basketball players but as human beings,” he said. “So, it’s not hard to gel as teammates. We all like each other off the floor and we spend enough time together we know each other’s tendencies.

Kieffer Punter (0) is one of Troy’s leaders this season. (Photo courtesy of Troy University Athletics)

“Once we get on the floor, we’re unselfish and play for each other. It makes it a whole lot easier when you like the guy next to you. I love playing with these guys.”

Punter said that chemistry is the biggest difference between this year’s teams and other Trojan teams of the recent past.

“It’s undeniable. My first year there wasn’t much chemistry at all really,” he recalled. “Last year it was a whole lot better but this year it’s the best since I’ve been here. The quality of people we have, we have some ‘dogs,’ is different.

“We have some ‘dogs’ that are wiling to buy in and do the things to win games. When it comes down it to, no matter what Coach Cross writes on the board, we have to go out there and play. We have a group of ‘dogs’ that buy in and I think that’s the biggest (difference) that I’ve seen.”

The Trojans were able to force 19 turnovers against FSU and put up more than 20 more shots than the Seminoles, as well. That and shot selection is something that Cross is stressing.

“What I’m looking at, as a coach, is are we getting great shots and are we forcing the other team to take tougher shots? If the answer is, ‘Yes,’ then I feel really good regardless of the outcome,” said Cross. “I think sometimes you get caught up in, ‘Oh, we made the shot’ even if it’s a bad shot, or ‘Oh, they missed a shot’ even though it was a wide-open shot.

“It’s all about the shot quality and on top of that, the thing that’s exciting is we were able to get 21 more shots than a Power-5, ACC team. I think that speaks volumes of how hard our team works. You’re not going to get 21 more shots than the other team unless you’re turning them over and taking care of the ball and doing a great job on the boards.”

Christyon Eugene came off the bench to score 22 points along with Aamer Muhammad scoring 23 points against FSU. Eugene said that he and his teammates’ confidence in one another makes it possible for anyone to have a big night.

Christyon Eugene and the Trojans were throwback Troy State uniforms against Little Rock. (Photo by Josh Boutwell)

“When you have a team full of guys that like to stay in the gym, confidence is high,” Eugene said. “No matter who is on the court, I feel like there are guys that can do that every night. Everybody has bought into the game and no one is selfish. Whoever has a big night has a big night and I feel like everyone that steps on the floor has the chance to do that.”

Toughness is another thing the Trojans have preached all offseason, which is propelling this season’s team.

“That’s one thing we say on game day, the toughest team always wins,” Cross said. “I think our team set the tone (against FSU). There were numerous times we were diving on the floor.

“We were the first to get to the floor and got a lot of those extra possessions and that’s another reason we got more shots than they did, because our guys play so dang hard.”

Punter said the Trojans wear that toughness like a badge of honor.

“The toughest team always wins and I feel like we were that as a badge of honor on our shoulders,” Punter said. “We all come out and we have it in our heads that we’ll be the toughest team and I think that will take us far this year. A lot of teams don’t hang their hat on being tough but that’s our motto and that’s what we live by.”

Troy’s toughness will come under fire once again as the Trojans travel more than 2,000 miles to the west to play in the Zootown Classic on the campus of the University of Montana. Troy will play Merrimack on Nov. 17 at 4 p.m. followed by a game with St. Thomas on Nov. 18 at 6 p.m. and the tournament finale against Montana on Nov. 19 at 8:30 p.m. All three of those games will stream on ESPN+.