Baker cooks up win in OT

Wesley Kircharr

Staff Writer

The Troy men’s basketball team picked up two crucial conference wins over the weekend, topping the Sun Belt’s duo from the bayou, Louisiana and ULM.

The Trojans (14-12, 6-6 Sun Belt) started off their week by beating UL-Monroe in overtime fashion thanks to a late three from junior Kevin Baker. Baker’s three came with as many seconds left on the clock, turning a two-point deficit into a one-point victory for the visitors.

Before Baker’s heroics on Monday, Troy cruised past Louisiana (formerly Louisiana-Lafayette) 100-88 on Saturday in Lafayette. The Trojans have won three of their last four games to improve to an even .500 in conference play heading into the final six games of the regular season.

In Saturday night’s matchup in the Cajundome, Troy topped the Ragin’ Cajuns on their home court for the first time since 2009. The Trojans had no trouble on offense as they eclipsed the triple digit point total for the third time this season.

“It all started Monday afternoon when our guys came into practice with the right mindset,” Head Coach Phil Cunningham said. “We talked about how we needed to play better defensively because they score so well, and we did that tonight. We got stops when we needed to.”

Troy saw records and career highs get surpassed as the team left the Sun Belt’s highest scoring offense without an answer. Jordon Varnado hit a new career-high point total with his 31 points, and the Trojans broke the Division I program record for free throws attempted and made by shooting 40-50. Varnado took advantage of his trips to the charity stripe, scoring 15 of his points off free throws.

Although the final score implies a commanding Trojan lead, the game was much closer than that. After Louisiana Head Coach Bob Marlin was ejected due to technical fouls late in the second half, the Ragin’ Cajuns started to spark a comeback. They chipped away at the 19-point deficit to bring themselves within six with 1:10 left to play.

The ultimate deciding factor for the Trojans was being able to get to the free throw line. Troy did not connect on a single shot within the final four minutes of the game, but managed to hold on by hitting 11-12 free throws in the final 60 seconds of the game.

Making an impact coming off the bench was Jeremy Hollimon, who scored 25 points for the Trojans on 6-11 shooting from the field and 10-14 shooting from the free throw line.

In Monday night’s conference matchup against ULM, Varnado was the highlight once again as he chipped in 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds on his way to his fourth double-double of the season and ninth of his career. Although Varnado’s performance was crucial to the game, it was Baker’s go-ahead three-pointer in overtime that had everyone talking.

“Our plan was to go right back to Jordon,” Cunningham said after the game. “We ran the same exact play as we did on the previous possession that Jordon scored on. We’ve been waiting for this from Kevin Baker; he’s been due. I think everybody in a Troy shirt knew it was going in.”

After Baker realized Varnado was double-teamed in the post, he took matters into his own hands. Baker stepped back well behind the arc and put up the shot that gave the Trojans the 73-72 lead with time running out. ULM inbounded the pass with three seconds remaining, and the half-court heave for the win fell short, sealing the first overtime win for the Trojans this season.

Troy returns to Trojan Arena on Saturday when it hosts Coastal Carolina before a matchup with Appalachian State on Monday night. Saturday night’s tipoff is set for 4:15 p.m., and Monday night’s action can be caught on ESPN3 at 7 p.m.

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