"When it's overtime we just plan on winning," said Slater, who missed the previous three games with a sprained ankle and was still questionable as late as Friday. His presence turned out invaluable, as the senior guard scored the last two baskets in regulation needed just to force overtime at 75-75. Slater then added the go-ahead and clinching buckets in extra-play, along with a free throw, to finish with 13 points.
Sophomore center Sharpe, only declared eligible to play the day before, became an unexpected part of the winning plan himself. It was his steal near the end of regulation, and missed layup, that Slater rebounded and scored to knot the score. Then he tipped in a rebound at 4:25 of OT to re-tie the count 77-77, and converted a ‘snowbird' pass into a dunk that gave State a two-possession lead and put all the pressure on the Trojans.
"It's good to be back," said Sharpe, who finished with 10 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes of action. "I didn't think I could do that, you could tell I was really out of shape." But not so much he couldn't get it done at crunch time, as did Slater on his still-shaky ankle.
"They made the difference," said Jamall Edmondson.
Edmondson might just as well said the same of himself, as the senior guard threw in all four of his three-point goals in two incredible minutes when the Bulldogs turned what was looking like a sure loss into a shot at victory. With five minutes on the clock in regulation the Trojans led 72-57 and many of the 4,039 at The Hump were already out the exits. The early departees missed a comeback worth watching as the Bulldogs put together a 18-3 surge to force OT, where they outscored the visitors 13-2.
"It's obvious, nothing comes easy for our basketball team," Coach Rick Stansbury said. "You never know what to expect and when to expect it."
Certainly the Trojans, who led by double-digits for 16 second-half minutes, had no reason to expect such a State surge. Blistering outside shooting had Troy in front 43-33 at halftime, and by as much as 16 in the second period. The Trojans, the NCAA leaders in three-pointers per-game the last two seasons, put on an exhibition of long-range marksmanship for most of the evening and finished with 17 treys out of 45 attempts.
Yet once the Bulldogs warmed up, Troy went cold. The last Trojan basket, a trey, came at 2:34 of regulation. In overtime the visitors missed all ten shots from the field, seven of them longballs, while State settled for higher-percentage attempts and cashed in on four-of-five.
"They didn't knock down any big shots in overtime," said Slater.
The Dogs did. After a couple of free shots by Troy guard Bobby Dixon, who'd missed a jumper to win at the end of regulation, Sharpe slipped inside for a rebound and tying basket. Dixon then fired for the lead from the top of the key, missed, and at the other end Slater canned a short jumpshot for the lead.
Something else happened on that shot; Sharpe lost his right shoe. He didn't try to trail the play but it worked out just fine because when Troy missed the center was standing all alone under the goal to catch the long pass and jam it through for a 81-77 margin.
Slater provided the back-breaker the next time down as he got the pass out top from Edmondson. "I'm not a good three-point shooter, time was winding down. I did a little head-fake and got to the free throw line, luckily it went in." Even better the Trojans kept misfiring their forced shots and every one ended up a Bulldog rebound, foul, and free throw or two to seal the outcome.
Trojan Coach Don Maestri, a MSU assistant in 1979-80, said he didn't think his team was "really ready for overtime" after their mistakes at the end of regulation. "It's a tough loss but a good win for them," he added.
Actually the Trojans had started to struggle in the final five minutes. Until then… "Give Troy a lot of credit, they had a better gameplan—to make shots!" Stansbury said. "Because they made them from everywhere." Mostly from the arc, too, and almost enough to blow the home team out. But not quite. And with the clock winding down the Trojan gunners not only lost their eye, they also didn't get the same sorts of open looks as in the first 35 minutes.
"We extended the zone, closed up on shooters and made them put it on the floor," Edmondson said. "They're more catch-and-shoot guys." Not only that but Troy kept pumping up the longballs and did not even try to work off any clock down the stretch.
For their part the Bulldogs, who were woeful in first-half offense, settled into a bit more structure after intermission and gradually wore away at Troy on both ends. "They could shoot well, but they weren't good at on-the-ball defense or rebounding," noted Slater. Good shooting was almost enough, though. Troy hit 42% in the first half with nine treys, then 46% in the second with eight more threeballs.
State was an opposite case, missing 15-of-16 tries at treys in the first half and the first five attempts in the second. After shooting from the arc well in wins over New Orleans and Santa Clara it was a complete comedown. "For whatever reason we couldn't make a shot," Stansbury said. "And we had good shots." Even when senior guard Michael Boler broke the arc-ice for State in the second half the Trojans responded with two treys for a 59-44 lead.
The margin was still 15 points as Boo Ramsey beat the shot clock and the zone with a bomb at 5:02, and the Dogs appeared done. Then Edmondson, 0-for-7 at the arc till then, got one to go at 4:37. Slater was fouled on a made layup and while he missed the free shot the rebound was kicked out to Edmondson, who pulled and hit again. Quickly as that it was a 72-65 game, and after a Troy turnover the guard made it three-in-a-row.
"I had to keep my head up and keep shooting because I know I can knock down shots when they're open," Edmondson said. He did one more time, at 2:37, putting his team within a point. Ramsey answered at the other end with a ridiculous 24-footer, but after Slater got a reverse-layup to drop Ramsey tried to stick on the move and missed.
So did Edmondson from out-top, and soon after Sharpe stepped on the baseline driving for a tying layup. "I had a chance to make up for it," he said. Because after State, which had committed just one personal in 19 minutes, stopped the clock five times on fouls, the inbounds throw on Troy's end was caught by Sharpe. He took it all the way to the other rack and threw up a terrible attempt, but Slater had snuck inside for the rebound and flipped it in at 0:15 for the 75-75 deadlock.
It stayed there at 0:00 because freshman guard Reggie Delk hounded Bobby Dixon into a high and short shot at the buzzer.
Dixon had 19 points to lead all scorers with four treys, while Ramsey had four of his own and 14 points. Cedric Jackson added 14 points with three treys, all in the first half. The Trojans actually shot a bit better at the arc than overall, 37.8% to 37.5%. And some of their longballs were truly long. "A guy shoots from the ‘M' at halfcourt, how am I going to contest that?!" Slater noted. The 17 threes were the most ever against a Bulldog team.
For State, freshman guard Jamont Gordon put in a team-high 38 minutes to score 17 points with ten rebounds, and was one assist short of a ‘triple-double'. "He's all over that stat sheet," said Stansbury. Sophomore center Charles Rhodes was the fifth Dog in double-digits with 12 points and nine boards, as State crushed the Trojans 58-34 on the glass.
"We had a lot of people that got us going," said Stansbury. "But I thought Walter and Dietric came off the bench and made some plays that were the difference in the game." Certainly the duo was pleased with their contributions after having missed so much of the early-season fun. Slater claimed his ankle didn't even hurt a bit after getting this win.
"It probably would have been sore if we'd lost! But it feels good."