NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana – Troy faced a 15-point deficit in the first half, but the Trojans stormed all the way back on Saturday to knock off Georgia State 74-63 and advance to the Sun Belt title game.
The victory marked the third-straight win for the Trojans (21-14) and the first championship appearance sine Troy made it in the 2010 season. It is the first time Troy has won three-straight postseason games since winning the Atlantic Sun in 2003.
After exploding in the first half for 37 points on Wednesday against Appalachian State and 44 on Friday against Georgia Southern, Troy had just 28 points in the first half.
A 3-pointer by Jeremy Hollowell put Georgia State (20-12) up 12-4 just four minutes in. Undeterred, Troy stormed back and took the first lead of the game on a 3-pointer by Juan Davis, Jr. at the 10:43 mark of the opening frame.
The two squads traded the lead until a three by Isaiah Williams sparked a hot streak for the Panthers and a cold streak for the Trojans that led to a 13-4 run to close out the half.
Any offensive woes, however, were wiped away at the break as the Trojan offense came alive in the second half. Wesley Person did not have a single point in the first half, but a dunk gave the junior his first score with 16:28 remaining and cut Troy’s deficit to three.
It slowly became the junior’s show as his offensive efficiency not only restarted Troy’s offensive identity but allowed for the rest of his teammates to get going. A 3-pointer by Jeremy Hollimon tied the game up at 46 with 13:03 to play.
A minute later, Jordon Varnado had a thunderous block, sparking a fast break that ended with DeVon Walker slamming home an uncontested dunk to regain the lead.
From there, Georgia Southern and Troy tied or changed the lead five times in the ensuing seven minutes. That’s when Person, who had just six points at the time, went back to the form that saw him score 55 points in the first two tournament games.
The guard connected on an athletic layup with 5:27 to play that gave Troy a lead it would never surrender. Troy went up three before a Person 3-pointer pushed that to six. Two Georgia State free throws were negated by a twisting layup by Person 40 seconds later.
The Panthers connected on only two field goals in the final three minutes and both of those were answered by Troy on the ensuing possession. Person helped ice the game by hitting his final 3-pointer with 2:43 to play and assisting on Varnado’s layup with 1:30 left that gave the Trojans an insurmountable 10-point lead.
“I’m really proud of the resiliency our guys showed today,” head coach Phil Cunningham said. “They’re a ball-control team and are hard to come back on. I thought we made a run there at the end of the first half to cut it down to nine that was really important. It gave us a fighting chance in the second half. In the second half, our guys kept clawing and kept fighting. It was really impressive how we finished the game.”
Stat of the Game
Troy shot 55.2 percent in the second half, which marked a remarkable turnaround for a team that had only one field goal in the final 8:46 of the first half. Jeremy Hollimon was Troy’s leading scorer with 10 points as he went 3-5 from the field. The rest of the Trojans were a combined 4-20 in the opening 20 minutes. Troy also went just 12-18 in the first half from the free-throw line.
The first five minutes of the second half were key for Troy in not allowing the deficit to get any further than nine. DeVon Walker was one of four double-digit scorers in the game. He had the first four points of the second half for either team that quickly cut Georgia State’s lead down to four. The Panthers had just seven points in the first six minutes as Troy came out of intermission on a 14-7 run to get it to within one. The Panthers largest lead in the final 15 minutes was three.
• A win on Sunday would give Troy the first Sun Belt tournament title in school history.
• Troy has not made the NCAA tournament since reaching it in the 2002-03 season against Xavier on March 21, 2003.
• In the second half alone, Wesley Person had 16 points on 6-9 shooting and 3-4 shooting from three.
• Troy scored on 61.1 percent of possessions in the second half.
Troy will face Texas State in the championship game on Sunday at 1 p.m. Troy fans in the area can visit Fulton Alley three hours prior to the game for a tailgate with other Trojan faithful. A shuttle will take attendees to the game one hour before tipoff. For more information on Troy men’s basketball, follow the team on social media at @TroyMensHoops or visit TroyTrojans.com.