Saratoga sneaks past Troy in overtime thriller

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga and Troy varsity basketball programs tend to bring out the best in one another. Friday’s game was no exception.

The game went into overtime tied at 77, and through clutch free-throw shooting and key baskets late, Saratoga came out with a 91-87 victory.

The Blue Streaks held as much as a 17-point lead multiple times during the second half, but the game seemed much closer than the score indicated, and Troy’s athleticism and size allowed them to cut it to a 13-point deficit at the end of the third quarter, 64-51. Then, the comeback was on.

The Flying Horses only needed a little more than two and a half minutes into the fourth to make it a single-digit game after Alonozo Alexander hit a three to make it 69-61. Saratoga then made it a 73-63 game after a bucket from Nate Chudy, and Troy’s Nazaire Merritt splashed home one from deep to cut it to 73-66.

Troy tied the game at 73 with 2:15 left on regulation on another three, this time courtesy of Latyce Faison.

“We just really don’t quit. Our kids really keep fighting and keep playing harder and harder as we go through. It feels like when the chips are down, we kind of just rise to the occasion,” Troy head coach Greg Davis said.

The game went into overtime tied at 77. Saratoga took the first three points of the extra period on free throws, extending their lead to as much as four by the final minute of overtime. Troy cut Saratoga’s lead to two with 46 seconds to play, then a pair of free throws by Matt Larkin, who had 19 points on the night and a Brian Hart fast break layup made it 90-84. Merritt hit a three with 16 seconds left to play to make it 90-87. Troy got the inbounds pass and had a real chance to potentially tie the game and send it into a second overtime, but a pass was misplayed and thrown out of bounds. Seconds later, Matt Larkin hit two free throws to ice the game for a Saratoga victory.

“That’s always a tough feeling. Obviously, you got to focus in on that rim. That’s the thing. We shoot them every day in practice, and I’m just looking at the same spot every time, but that outside pressure of in-game you can’t simulate in practice,” Larkin said of making free throws late in the game.

Head coach Matt Usher echoed that statement. “Down the stretch, our guys hit big free throws when it was a tight game. When it’s close and (they) knock down free throws at the end of a game, that’s only going to help your cause.”

Larkin didn’t score during the fourth quarter but came up with five free throws during overtime. He was one of four Blue Streaks to finish in double figures on the night. AJ Lawton had 24 points, while Larkin had 19, Hart had 17, and Nick Chudy had 16. Troy had five players in double figures. Merritt led them all with 25 points, and Faison had 17 as their two leading scorers.

Troy falls to 5-2 in the league and 5-4 overall. They will play again Tuesday at home as they face Niskayuna. That game will begin at 7 p.m.

Saratoga is now 8-1 in league play, and 8-2 overall. They will also be back in action on Tuesday on the road against Albany for a 7 p.m. start. They return home on Friday, January 19 for a tilt with Bethlehem. That one will also begin at 7 p.m.

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