NEW ORLEANS, La. – A suffocating defense in the second half combined with another strong outing from Jordon Varnado propelled Troy to a 69-62 win over South Alabama in the first round of the Sun Belt Tournament on Wednesday.
The Trojans trailed by six at the break after shooting 32.4 percent (11-34) in the opening frame, but the defensive and offensive woes soon disappeared as the Trojans hit 43.3 percent from the field (13-30) and 40 percent from three (4-10) to close it out.
While Varnado was the most dominant player on the court with 22 points and nine rebounds, it was the Trojans (16-16) defense that stole the show as South Alabama (14-18) hit only six field goals (6-30) in the second half.
Though the Trojans connected on just six threes in the game, four of them came in the final 20 minutes. More importantly, the Jaguars went 1-12 (8.3 percent) from deep after intermission following four threes in the first half.
Troy led by at least five from the from the 7:55 mark until the end of the game thanks in part to Wesley Person, who converted two jumpers in the final six minutes and iced the game with a free throw with eight seconds remaining.
The win marked the first time in school history Troy has won three games against South Alabama in a season and the fifth-straight win in the Sun Belt Tournament stretching to last season.
“I thought this game was typical of tournament play where both teams had the jitters,” head coach Phil Cunningham said. “We came out really slow. Jordon (Varnado) came out slow and (South Alabama) played well in the first half.
“We had to just keep grinding and start to get into our legs. It wasn’t pretty, but we got the win. One of the critical parts of the game was that we got Trhae Mitchell in foul trouble. He got four fouls and had to sit and that allowed Wesley Person to get going.”
Troy will face No. 2 Georgia State in the quarterfinals on Friday at 5 p.m. The Trojans went 2-0 against the Panthers this season.
• Alex Hicks recorded his sixth-straight double-double after posting 13 points and 12 rebounds on Wednesday.
• Troy forced South Alabama into 16 turnovers while the Jaguars had just nine assists.
• Jordon Varnado had 20 points or more for the fourth-straight game and six of the past eight.
For more information on Troy men's basketball visit TroyTrojans.com or follow the team on social media at @TroyMensHoops.