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Sun Belt Championship recap: Troy advances to the NCAA Tournament

The Troy Trojans are the #FunBelt champions of 2017.

NCAA Basketball: Troy at Mississippi Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

The Troy Trojans are headed to the NCAA Tournament after a third-straight upset win. They defeated Texas State by a final score of 59-53 on Sunday to capture the Sun Belt Tournament championship.

Both teams had to pull off upsets to get to the conference title game. Texas State came into the tournament as the 4 seed and had to knock off regular season champion UT Arlington to advance. The Bobcats did so in convincing fashion, by a final of 83-62. Troy, on the other hand, needed two upsets. As the 6 seed, the Trojans defeated both the 3 seed Georgia Southern and the 2 seed Georgia State on their path to the championship game.

In the regular season series between the two schools, Texas State won twice. However, each win was by just four points. In both of those wins, the Bobcats used good ball movement and efficient three-point shooting to seal victory. Texas State shot well over 40 percent from three in both wins and had 17 assists as a team in each game.

Despite the two solid offensive performances by Texas State in the teams’ earlier meetings, Troy entered Sunday’s championship the better squad on offense. The Trojans had the highest offensive efficiency rating of all Sun Belt teams in conference games, according to KenPom. The Bobcats, on the other hand, did their damage on the defensive end, sporting the fourth-most efficient defense in the conference.

Therefore, the defensive struggle that ensued in New Orleans seemed to favor Texas State. But it was the defense of Troy, ranked 11 out of 12 in the conference in efficiency by KenPom, that stood tall and won the championship. The Trojans came up with 10 steals and forced 17 turnovers in the win.

Troy’s offense never really got going, but it did just enough to win. Jordon Varnado led the Trojans with 18 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. Varnado was also a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line, highlighting an 84 percent team performance on free throws to seal the game late.

Troy advanced to the NCAA Tournament after winning four games in five days — an incredible turnaround for a team that went 9-22 a season ago.

Kavin Gilder-Tilbury led Texas State with 19 points. The Bobcats’ offense did not shoot as well as it did in the two regular season wins over Troy. They also had seven more turnovers than assists.