The Valdosta Daily Times
It certainly wasn’t an offensive masterpiece, but the Valdosta State women’s basketball team isn’t complaining.
The Blazers shot just 33.3 percent from the floor, but rode the hot hand of April Thomas late to edge Shorter 46-41 at The Complex on Saturday.
“We struggled scoring at times,” VSU coach Kiley Hill said as his Blazers snapped a five-game losing streak in the home finale, improving to 11-13 overall and 6-12 in the Gulf South Conference. Shorter, which shot 36.8 percent, fell to 6-18 and 4-14. “We had some kids that struggled shooting the ball. We couldn’t throw it in the ocean for awhile. Both teams probably set offensive basketball back at least 20 years.”
“It feels good to finally put ourselves in position to have success. We’ve tried to do, but we’ve been a team of almost. Tonight, we were a team of doing just enough.”
After Shorter took a 32-30 lead with 10:59 remaining, Thomas quickly answered with two straight buckets to put VSU — which now hits the road to Delta State on Thursday and Christian Brothers next Saturday prior to the GSC tournament — back on top and she made sure it remained there. The Blazers’ leading scorer at 14.7 points per game, Thomas was limited to just two at halftime. But she heated up midway through the second half.
“Thomas hit some big shots, but I think some other kids stepped up and did some things other than shooting the ball,” Hill said. “Those last two 3-pointers were huge.”
Having scored eight of VSU’s last 10 points, Thomas drained a 3-pointer with 1:50 left to stake the Blazers to a 43-36 lead. But Shorter wasn’t done. Following a Karisma Boykin basket, Ieshia Alexander hit a 3-pointer and the Hawks were back within two with 40 seconds left. Boykin and Lynette Harris, who scored Shorter’s first eight points, led the Hawks with 12 points each.
Then Jordan Waugh missed a jumper in the lane in transition, but the junior guard chased down her miss — one of seven rebounds from Waugh — and found Thomas, who finished with a game-high 16, alone in the corner and she drilled her second 3 to make it 46-41 with 21 seconds left as VSU outscored Shorter 12-2 on second-chance points. Courtney Sprague added a pair of free throws to help seal it.
“Jordan Waugh did so many little things that are instrumental to success,” Hill said.
With the offense struggling throughout, especially in a first half that ended with a 24-all tie, the Blazers got a lift from seldom-used senior forward Jocelyn Danley. Danley, who has battled injuries, got the start on senior night and made the most of the opportunity. Limited to just five games and six points coming in, she scored the Blazers’ first bucket and had five points in the first 11 minutes, 19 seconds of the game, putting VSU up 12-11 when she hit a free throw at that point.
“Jocelyn is playing without an ACL and she’s fought her way back to be able to play,” Hill added. “When Jocelyn was fully healthy, she was a warrior not just physically but also mentally.
“We needed that. She was a spark.”
Valdosta State 83
Shorter men 74
The Blazers held Shorter scoreless for one nearly six-minute stretch of the second half and to just three points during another five-minute stretch after the break.
That stingy defense and a big second half from Blake Justice is what VSU needed to pull away from Shorter and improve to 15-9 overall and 9-9 in the GSC.
When Jordan Jacks scored with 17:04 left, the Hawks had a 51-46 lead on the host Blazers. However, VSU when went on a 9-0 run as Shorter (9-15, 6-12) didn’t score again until Dedric Ware hit a pair of free throws at the 11:16 mark. The Hawks grabbed their final lead on two more Ware free throws with 8:44 left, but managed just a Brandon Pullman 3-pointer in the next five minutes as the Blazers surged ahead 73-63. Pullman and Jacks each finished with 21 points to pace the Hawks.
Leading those streaks was Justice. After scoring five points in the first half, Justice finished with a game-high 23 as he knocked down all nine of his free throws.
VSU took the lead for good on a bucket from Colin Cook, who was one of five Blazers in double figures with 12, with 8:27 left. Also finishing in double figures were David Murray with 13, Jalen Crawford with 11 including a monster putback dunk with 6:45 left, and Jeremy McKay with 11.