Freshman guard Jasmine Sanders hit a pair of late free throws, and South Alabama missed three potentially game-tying 3-pointers in the final 12 seconds as Troy held off its in-state rival 82-79 in Thursday’s second round of the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
The No. 5 seed Jaguars cut the Trojans’ lead to just one point with 20 seconds left, but Sanders extended it back to three after hitting two key free throws. Three different South Alabama players forced up 3-point shots in the final seconds, but none of them found the bottom of the net.
Sanders made her living at the foul line, making 12 of 13 attempts to go along with nine rebounds in the game.
After enjoying a first-round bye as the No. 4 seed, Troy has now punched its ticket to the tournament semifinals in New Orleans, where it will be play top-seeded Little Rock on Saturday.
The last time the Troy Trojans played the UALR Trojans in a conference tournament game was in 2016, when Troy edged UALR 61-60 to win its first of two consecutive Sun Belt titles.
Despite shooting a lowly 33 percent from the floor, the Troy Trojans bounced back from an early deficit and held off a late comeback thanks to a balanced scoring attack that was spearheaded by almost perfect free throw shooting.
Troy shot 30 free throws in the game, and made 28 of them. It’s the most made free throws the Trojans have had in a game since March 9 of last season, when they made 32 of their 37 attempts.
The Trojans also dominated the boards, out-rebounding the Jaguars 52-33 overall and 26-8 on the offensive glass.
The Trojans had five players scoring in double figures, led by 15 points from Harriet Winchester, 14 each from Kayla and Jasmine Robinson and 10 from Sky’Lynn Holmes.
South Alabama was a little less balanced in its scoring, but got 19 points and 11 rebounds from the Sun Belt’s defensive player of the year First Team and all-Sun Belt selection Chyna Ellis. Genesis Perrymond also played a big role in the Jaguars’ second-half surge by scoring 12 of her 21 points in the fourth quarter.
After falling behind 18-7 midway through the first quarter, Troy chipped away at the deficit and built up a 13-point lead by the 3:38 mark of the third quarter.
South Alabama, led by Perrymond, battled back in the final period to make things interesting, but couldn’t get the win after missing five of their last seven shots in the final two and a half minutes.
Troy now looks forward to a matchup with No. 1 seed Little Rock, who has won 18 of its last 19 games. UALR’s one loss during that stretch was at Trojan Arena in a 76-70 overtime thriller back on Feb. 10. Tipoff for the rematch is scheduled for 5 p.m., with ESPN3 streaming the game.