/Troy battles, falls to Duke in NCAA tournament

Troy battles, falls to Duke in NCAA tournament

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Michael Shipma
Sports Editor

Troy put up a valiant effort, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a double-digit second half deficit as it fell to Duke 65-87.

The No. 15-seed Trojans were the heavy underdogs in the contest, and No. 2-seed Duke utilized its length and athleticism to pull away from a Trojan team that battled hard from start to finish.

Troy’s fans were many and loud, making their presence known 337 miles from their team’s campus.

Troy made a statement on a national stage, hanging tough with one of the best teams in collegiate sports. On two separate occasions, the Trojans cut Duke’s lead to single digits. However, each time that happened, Duke bounced back with a run of its own.

Duke’s Grayson Allen was on fire in the first half, and couldn’t seem to miss from beyond the arc. His 21 points off the bench was a difference-maker, as he shot 5-9 from deep. He was greeted with loud boos from around Bon Secours Wellness Arena every time he touched the ball.

Head Coach Phil Cunningham’s bench gave him 19 points in the game, with 14 of those coming from Alex Hicks. Hicks’ career-high point total went along with six rebounds and a defensively-disruptive 20 minutes of play time. The front court duo of Jordon Varnado and Hicks made some noise against Duke’s post defenders.

Varnado led Troy with 18 points and 10 rebounds in 36 minutes of action.

“(Duke) did a terrific job defensively, but we fought,” Cunningham said. “I was so proud of our guys. Their mentality all week was showing no fear whatsoever. When you go into a game, that’s the first thing you want.”

While the scoreline may not have shown it, the matchup was a close one, as Troy tested Duke’s bigs on the offensive end. Hicks and Varnado both created shots for themselves in the paint but were also able to get going in the mid-range game.

The story of the night was the Blue Devils’ shooting from three-point range, as they shot a red-hot 13-28 from beyond the arc. Ten of those threes, however, came in the first half alone.

After falling behind 16-4 early, Troy gathered itself and found its rhythm offensively. Shots started to fall for Wesley Person, and Hicks’ contributions helped keep Troy in the game. Person finished with 15 points and three rebounds.

Despite the hot shooting from Duke, Troy refused to give in and faced a 38-52 deficit going into the locker room.

After halftime, Troy came storming out of the gate, as Varnado scored a quick five points for his team. The defense also tightened up, holding the Blue Devils to three points in the first three minutes of the half.

Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team responded as it had all night, with a run of its own to keep Troy at arm’s length. Coach K’s team played efficiently and executed well from start to finish, as 15 of their made shots came off assists. The Blue Devils also turned the ball over just eight times.

Duke used its rebounding ability and clock management to keep the game out of reach in the final five minutes of the game. Every possession down the court in the final few minutes took nearly all of the 30-seconds shot clock, as Duke held on for the victory.

The Blue Devils will play the winner of Marquette versus South Carolina on Sunday.