Jamie Wachter & Shane Thomas
The Valdosta Daily Times
VALDOSTA — Lady Blazers drop second straight at home
After shooting itself in the foot time and time again, the Valdosta State women’s basketball team had the shot it wanted with 25 seconds left Saturday at The Complex.
Trailing visiting Christian Brothers by just three despite a rough first half and countless missed opportunities, the Blazers got an open look for April Thomas from the top of the arc.
Thomas’ shot, though, missed off the back of the iron and Christian Brothers held on for a 67-60 win in Gulf South Conference play.
“Every time we had an opportunity, we just shot ourselves in the foot,” VSU coach Kiley Hill said. “Poor decisions on passes, dribble driving it when we tried to go through six people or whatever instead of passing it on to the next person.
“So many little things that cost us and yet we still had an opportunity to tie the basketball game and get the crowd back into it.”
The Blazers, who fell to 9-7 and 4-6 in conference with their fifth loss in six games, had the opportunity late because of a defensive switch at halftime. With the Bucs (10-6, 6-4) shooting 62.5 percent in the first half as they led by as many as 13 and had a 36-25 advantage at the break, Hill put the Blazers into a 2-3 zone to open the second half.
The switch slowed Christian Brothers, especially star guard Breanna Ridgell, and VSU clawed its way back into the game. Ridgell, who nearly matched her season average of 16.3 points per game in the first half with 15, didn’t get her first points after intermission until 11 minutes and 15 seconds had evaporated. That basket gave the Bucs a 48-44 lead. Ridgell finished with 25 points on 10 of 14 shooting.
“If you look at the shot chart from the first half, every one of their makes was from inside the paint,” Hill said about the defensive change. “We just weren’t doing a very good job of recognizing what was coming at us.
“You can either keep doing the same thing or adjust, and we adjusted.”
But after VSU closed within 48-47 with 7:21 to go on a Thomas 3-pointer, the Bucs adjusted as well. Christian Brothers responded with an 8-0 run, capped by a three-point possession with Erica Burgess, who added 17 points, making the first of two free throws with 5:20 left and Ridgell drilling a jumper 11 seconds later after an offensive board.
The Blazers didn’t go quietly as Kourtnee Williams, who led VSU with 17 points, scored four straight to pull the Blazers within 58-54. Down 63-55 with 1:10 to go, VSU rattled off five straight points to give Thomas the look at the tying shot.
“We did so many things, especially in the first half, that helped beat us,” Hill said.
In that first half, Christian Brothers which shot 54.3 perent overall, used runs of 9-0 and 10-2 to open a 25-14 lead with eight minutes left in the half. The lead ballooned to 36-23 on a 3-pointer from Ashley Schaefer with 90 seconds left before halftime.
VSU gets back on winning track
The Valdosta State Blazers rode the hot hand of their senior and rolled past Christian Brothers 84-65 at The Complex on Saturday night.
Playing with a heavy heart, David Murray shot a perfect 7-for-7 from the field in the second half en route to a career-high 32 points. The Birmingham, Ala., native played despite news of the death of his aunt on Friday.
“I really didn’t know how I was going to play tonight until I talked to my mom,” Murray said. “She just told me to go out and play ball because that’s what my aunt would want me to do.
“I was just playing ball. I felt like I owed Christian Brothers from last year because I got hurt.”
Murray shot 12-of-14 from the field, made 6-of-8 from 3-point range and pulled down 10 rebounds in 35 minutes.
“He’s very capable of that,” Blazers coach Mike Helfer said. “I’m proud he did that, but I’m more proud of the 10 rebounds he got. He got in there and really did a good job on the defensive end, but he made a lot of shots.”
The Blazers outrebounded the Bucs 36-33 and dished out 14 assists, including a season-high eight by junior Jalen Crawford; improving to 9-0 when they record 10 assists or more.
“I thought we did a great job of passing it,” Helfer said. “Your assists go up when guys make shots. I just thought we were very unselfish tonight, which was big.”
The Christian Brothers offense sputtered throughout as they were held without a 3-pointer in the first half and finished just 5-of-22 from beyond the arc. The Blazers’ defense bottled up the Bucs, holding them to 34.4 percent shooting.
In the second half, the Bucs came alive behind the play of upperclassmen Trey Casey, Cory McArthy and Sidy Sall. The trio accounted for 27 of the team’s 40 second-half points.
The Blazers led by 25 with 14:14 remaining and despite the cushion, Helfer urged his team to keep the pressure on.
“I told them in the huddle to stick to our offense — don’t come down and take quick shots and feed [the Bucs] offense,” Helfer explained. “We wanted to make them work for their shots and wrap up the rebounds — that was our philosophy in the second half.”
The Blazers led 40-25 at halftime as they shot 51.6 percent from the floor driven by the play of Murray and junior Larry Stone as the duo combined for 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
CBU was led by sophomore Drew Hildreth’s 10 points in the first half.
The Bucs fell to 9-7 on the year, while the Blazers improved to 11-5 overall and 5-5 in Gulf South Conference play. VSU will be back on the practice floor today in preparation for its road matchup Tuesday against West Florida (3-13).
“We’re taking this one game at a time,” Murray said. “We prepared well for Christian Brothers and played a great game as a team. Now, we’ve just got to go out, practice and get ready for West Florida on Tuesday.”
“Any time you go on the road, especially in the second half of the season, it’s gonna be a tough, grind-it-out game,” Helfer added. “Each team knows each other. It’s going to be a grind and we’re going to have to be ready.”
The Blazers head to Pensacola, Fla., to take on the Argos of West Florida. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.