The Valdosta Daily Times
After losing to North Alabama on a buzzer beater in December, the Valdosta State men’s basketball team was once again left broken hearted at the buzzer Saturday night.
David Murray had his potential game-winning shot blocked and Patrick Diop’s last-ditch effort before the buzzer wasn’t even close, and the Blazers fell to the Lions 74-73.
The wild final few seconds capped off a back-and-forth second half, which featured eight lead changes — seven inside the final five minutes — and nine ties.
The final lead change of the night came when North Alabama’s DeAndre Hersey dunked the ball home with 17.1 seconds remaining, giving North Alabama the 74-73 lead. It also gave VSU ample time for a potential game winner, but the Blazers couldn’t find a clean shot.
“We just made a mistake,” Valdosta State head coach Mike Helfer said, of the final sequence of plays. “We weren’t trying to shoot three’s. We just made a few mistakes there.”
North Alabama led for the entire first half, getting ahead by as many as 17, but the Blazers fought back and took their first lead of the night early in the second half off a Diop layup.
The Blazers held on to that lead until North Alabama took over the lead with 4:58 remaining, when Hersey hit a layup. From there, the teams swapped the lead six more times, with North Alabama getting the final lead.
“We went to the zone, and once we went to the zone, the game really slowed down,” Helfer said. “I thought we did a good job in the zone, but of course the weakness when you play zone is you don’t rebound very well.”
After the Blazers took their first lead, they coulnd’t build on to it. In fact, their lead never got larger than four, which came with 9:43 remaining.
“I’ve watched a lot of film the last two days and I knew they would not go away,” Helfer said. “If we could have gotten them down nine, they would have made a very quick run on us. They’ve done it to everyone all year. It is kind of the way they play under Bobby (Champagne). I thought it was going to go down to the last possession like it did.”
After reducing the amount of turnovers the past few games — including committing just 10 Thursday night — the Blazers committed 21 turnovers Saturday, which led to 26 North Alabama points.
The Blazers also shot poorly. They were just 22 of 56 (39 percent) from the floor and 5 of 18 (27.8 percent) from 3-point range.
“What happened to us, we just turned the ball over and we did not shoot the ball well,” Helfer said. “I give our kids a bunch of credit for fighting really hard and getting back into the game after being down 17. But you are only going to win so many games after shooting 39 percent and 27 percent from three-point line and having 21 turnovers. So we have to make shots and take care of the ball or we aren’t going to win.”
The game started rough for the Blazers, who committed nine of their 21 turnovers and made just five field goals across the opening 12 minutes in the half.
The lack of productivity allowed North Alabama to cruise out to a 27-15 lead, using the 3-point ball as a massive aid.
The Blazers recovered, though, using a 10-3 run to close within five points with 5:46 remaining. Murray started the run with a 3-pointer and followed it up with a layup.
Then, James Anacreon added a pair of free throws, which were followed by a free throw from Diop. Anacreon finished the run with another pair of free throws.
North Alabama managed to stretch its lead back to 10 points, 39-29, with just over two minutes remaining. Like the time before, the Blazers responded and used a 7-0 run to close out the first half.
Diop started the run with a pair of free throws, followed up by a layup from Anacreon and a 3-pointer from Jarriod Johnson.
Anacreon finished with a team-high 22 points and 11 rebounds, while four other Blazers scored in double figures. Josh Sparks and Murray each finished with 12 points. Patrick Diop had 11 and Jarriod Johnson contributed with 10.
Valdosta State visits Alabama-Huntsville Thursday night.