Troy and South Alabama each won in the Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball Tournament on Thursday in Pensacola. Troy, the No. 5 seed, beat No. 13 seed Arkansas State, 63-59. South Alabama, the No. 8 seed, knocked off No. 9 seed Appalachian State, 68-61.
Both advance to play in the quarterfinals on Saturday. South Alabama will play No. 1 seed Southern Miss at 11:30 a.m., and Troy follows against No. 4 seed James Madison at 2 p.m.
Troy was down by 12 points with just under nine minutes left in the game. Instead of packing it in, the Trojans went to work. Troy outscored Arkansas State, 24-8, the rest of the way to pull out the win.
"In the last eight minutes, we buckled down defensively," said Troy head coach Scott Cross. "We did everything right. To me, this game honors toughness. They were the tougher team until the final eight minutes. I feel very grateful to be sitting here knowing we are playing on Saturday. You take away one or two of those plays down the stretch, and the roles would be reversed."
Nelson Phillips' follow dunk trimmed the deficit to 57-56 late in the game, and he followed with a 3-pointer on the following possession to give the Trojans the lead. Aamer Muhammad hit four free throws in the final minute to ice the win.
Phillips had 14 points and 13 rebounds for Troy, and Zay Williams had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
South Alabama used second-half defense and timely offense to pull out a gritty win. The Jaguars trailed 37-34 at halftime.
"Our guys responded," said South Alabama head coach Richie Riley. "We were down three at half, didn't play very well, and they responded. A lot of it was from them talking to each other. That's the leadership on this team. They challenge each other in the locker room. They challenge each other in the huddles, and they stepped up."
Isaiah Moore led the way with 20 points, four rebounds, seven assists and two steals. He was one of four South Alabama players in double figures. Center Kevin Samuel helped control the paint with 12 points, 15 rebounds, six blocked shots and three steals.
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