The Valdosta Daily Times
Officially, the Shorter Hawks are not full members of the Gulf South Conference. That will come next year. On Saturday, though, the Hawks didn’t look anything like a team that was competing at the NAIA level just a year ago.
The Hawks, in year two of their transition into becoming full-time members of the GSC, never trailed the Valdosta State Blazers, earning a 75-69 victory at VSU’s P.E. Complex.
“It is frustrating, “ said Valdosta State head coach Mike Helfer, whose team has now dropped two straight conference games. “You have to give a lot of credit to Shorter and what they came in here and did. We knew they were a good basketball team and they came in and showed it.”
The Hawks cleaned up on the offensive rebounds, racking up 17, which led to 20 second-chance points on the night, while the Blazers finished with just 12 offensive boards.
“I thought they were much more into the game than we were,” Helfer said. “That is my fault as the coach. I have to make sure we are ready to go and we weren’t. They seemed to know how important this game was, and they played like it.”
Walter Hill led Shorter with 28 points and Dedric Ware added 18 points for the Hawks, while Patrick Diop led the Blazers with 21 points. John Hoskins, who entered Saturday’s game averaging just over five points per game, finished with 20 points for the Blazers.
After Shorter built its largest lead of the day, 10, with 5:34 to play in the second half, the Blazers did their best to come back and make things interesting, but fell short in the end.
Diop and Hoskins led a 10-2 run to close within two points with just over a minute remaining, but the Blazers were forced to foul in order to stop the clock. In the double-bonus, the Hawks converted their free throws down the stretch and continued to play stifling defense against the Blazers in order to secure the win.
“Shorter played great today,” Helfer said. “The frustration that was created more on our side was because what they were doing and our inability to control it.”
A poor shooting effort hurt the Blazers in the first half; they connected on just 9 of 26 attempts, allowing the Hawks to build a 10-point lead 15 minutes into the game.
Luckily for the Blazers, they were able to find some rhythm in the closing minutes, using a 10-2 run to close out the first half to close within two points, 33-31, at the half.
In the half, Hoskins carried the Blazers with 10 points, connecting on all six of his free throw attempts. At one point of the half, Hoskins had eight of the Blazers’ 17 points.
After the game, with emotions running high, Helfer and Shorter head coach Chad Warner were seen having a heated confrontation while shaking hands in front of the scorer’s table.
During their postgame interviews, both coaches downplayed the moment.
“That was nothing,” Helfer said. “Chad and I are very good friends. He is a good coach and I’ll just leave it at that.”
Added Warner: “I have a ton of respect for Mike. It was an emotional game. There was talk on both sides, technical’s, but you want to stay above that as coaches and players. I think they are a class-act outfit. You try to defend your team and that is all it was. It is over, as far as I’m concerned.”