It was college basketball at its best.
Third-ranked Alabama-Huntsville used a 3-pointer from Xavier Baldwin with two seconds remaining to beat Valdosta State, 79-77, in dramatic fashion at the VSU P.E. Complex.
Baldwin’s 3-pointer answered a potential game-winning field goal by VSU’s Josh Sparks with 13.4 seconds remaining, which sent the smaller than normal but jubilant VSU crowd into a giant uproar.
Following Sparks’ field goal, the Chargers pushed the ball up the court and found Baldwin in the corner for the game-winning field goal, which quickly silenced the VSU faithful.
“I thought both teams played really hard and I thought both teams made a lot of plays,” Valdosta State head coach Mike Helfer said. “They just made one more.”
Valdosta State had its chances to put the Chargers away in the second half, but blew leads of 15 and 7 points.
After building a 15-point lead by using an 11-0 run midway through the second quarter, led by Patrick Diop, who drilled a field goal and a 3-pointer to begin the run, and capped off by an alley-oop from James Anacreon to Sparks.
Then, UAH put together a 16-0 run that took just 2:06 off the clock, connecting on four three-pointers to grab a 58-57 lead, only to see the Blazers re-extend their lead to seven, 69-62, with around six minutes to play.
Unfortunately for the Blazers, the Chargers came back, using a quick 6-1 run to close within two points. From there, neither team led by more than five points, which came when the Blazers grabbed a 73-68 advantage.
“We played really well. They just made their run, which you knew they were going to make,” Helfer said. “We didn’t respond well during the run, but once it got tied back up, I thought our kids responded well.”
A large piece of the Chargers’ comeback success was because of the play from point guard Jamie Smith and the Blazers’ inability to connect from the free-throw line.
Smith led the Chargers with a game-high 28 points, connecting on four of his nine three-point field goal attempts, including two during their 16-0 run midway through the second half.
Valdosta State connected on just 11 of its 21 free throw attempts, including just 5 of 13 in the second half.
“That’s a spot where I wouldn’t say we lost the game, but we didn’t live up to expectations,” Helfer said.
Diop finished with a team-high 24 points for the Blazers, connecting on 5 of his 8 three-point field goals, while David Murray finished with 16 points. Josh Sparks finished with 12 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Valdosta State came out on fire in the first half, connecting on 45 percent of their field goals and 50 percent (6 of 12) of their 3-pointers.
With their hot shooting, the Blazers overcame an early narrow deficit to go surging past the Chargers.
Led by Diop’s hot hand, the Blazers built a 10-point first-half lead on multiple occasions, including once when Alan Love stole the ball and finished with a slam-dunk.
Unfortunately for VSU, the Chargers came back, much like one would expect a third-ranked team would do. The Chargers used a pair of three-point field goals inside the waning minutes of the first half, followed by a quick field goal to reduce their 10-point deficit to four, 42-38, at the half.
Valdosta State returns to action Saturday against Shorter. The game is scheduled for a 4 p.m. tip.
“In the game of basketball, the games come so quick,” Helfer said. “We play again in 42 hours so we have to make sure we bounce back. You have to turn the page so quick in this sport because the next team is going to be a good basketball team in the Gulf South.”
It was college basketball at its best.
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