The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta State men’s basketball team entered Thursday night’s game against Christian Brothers in a must-win scenario. With a league record of just 2-5, the Blazers couldn’t afford another slip up and fall farther down in the standings.
Good thing the Blazers (11-5) came to play Thursday night.
The Blazers shot an impressive 50 percent from the floor and used suffocating defense to beat the Buccaneers 68-60 at the P.E. Complex. More importantly, they earned an important Gulf South Conference win, with rival Delta State coming to town Saturday afternoon for a nationally televised game.
“I thought our kids did a great job at playing really hard,” Valdosta State head coach Mike Helfer said. “The game was very demanding, physically, and I thought our guys did a good job of responding to that.
“I thought they prepared like it was a huge game; it was a huge game. I thought they came out and played like it was a huge game, and a big thanks to our crowd and the fans that came out. It was nice to have them behind us again.”
Led by Patrick Diop’s 17 points and David Murray’s 12 points, the Blazers finished 26 of 52 from the floor and 6 of 15 from 3-point range to earn the win.
Defensively, the Blazers went into a full-court press for the majority of the game, forcing Christian Brothers into 18 turnovers, which led to 22 Blazer points.
“We just wanted to make the game a little more full-court,” Helfer said. “They didn’t have a deep bench. I think they only played seven guys. So we wanted to make the game a little more full-court, and our guys did that. Again, they did it with energy and played smart.”
Part of the Blazers’ success came from the multiple lineups that took the floor. Helfer used various combinations, including one that featured true freshman Dylan Nsiah and sophomore Colin Cook on the floor at the same time.
A major reason for the multiple looks was because of the Blazers’ tenacious defensive pressure, which caused players to use extra energy on the floor.
“When you do that, you are going to have to rely on your bench,” Helfer said. “You are going to have to rely on other guys and give guys rest. I thought our kids were ready when they came in, whether they played one minute, 30 minutes or 40 minutes. I thought they did a good job of contributing and doing the right things.”
The Blazers led throughout the majority of the first half, and never trailed in the second half en route to the win.
During the few times they did trail in the first half, never trailing by more than two points, the Blazers immediately responded and regained the lead the following possessions.
That came less than a week after trailing by 21 points in the first half to West Florida, a game the Blazers lost 99-93.
“I think we made some big plays at critical moments of the game,” Helfer said. “You don’t want to let them get going and let them get up 3, 5, 7 points. So we made some critical baskets. All in all, I thought we did a good job at staying in the game, mentally, and staying within the game plan.”
Valdosta State built a lead as large as seven points in the first half, led by Diop’s seven points.
In the second half, the Blazers built a lead as large as nine points until Diop connected on four straight free throws — two off a technical foul and two off a personal foul — with 1:36 remaining in the second half.
Notes: The Valdosta State football team, the 2012 Division II national champion, was honored at halftime of the men’s game. A highlight video of the 2012 season was shown before the team took to the court. Head coach David Dean thanked the crowd and said, “Watching that video makes me want the season to start again.” Quarterback Cayden Cochran also spoke to the crowd. After the ceremony, the players signed autographs during the opening minutes of the second half.