The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta State Blazers started off the new year with a familiar result: a dominant win over Carver Bible.
Kevin Harris led the Blazers with 30 points, Christian Hunter poured in 23 points and 12 more Blazers found the scoring column as VSU defeated the Cougars 127-78 at the P.E. Complex.
The Blazers improved to 13-2 this season and 10-0 against Carver all time. They also won their 10th straight game overall.
“It was good to be back at home,” Blazers head coach Mike Helfer said. “We haven’t been home in a long time. We didn’t know what to expect from (Carver). Obviously, they struggled, but I liked the way our guys came out. They had a methodical approach, and I thought they played well from the jump.”
Carver (0-15) was undermanned and overwhelmed from the start. The Cougars have eight freshmen on the roster and no seniors. It showed, as they couldn’t keep up with the Blazers’ fast pace or size.
“We obviously had a lot of advantages, but you can come out in a game like that and play sloppy and loose,” Helfer said. “We didn’t do that. I thought we came out and played very well.”
The Blazers had trouble with the Cougars in last season’s opener, when they only led 33-26 after the first 11 minutes. It was never that close on Thursday. The Blazers scored the game’s first nine points, and after the Cougars made a couple of shots to make it 9-5, the Blazers went on a tear. Harris hit a jumper and a 3-pointer, Will Alston made a shot, then Hunter knocked down a couple of free throws and a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 21-5.
VSU went on another long run later in the first half, behind five points from Harris, to take a 57-17 lead.
Martrez Scott buried a three with one second left in the half to give VSU 69 points. It was the most points the Blazers had scored in a half this season, and it was one more point than they had scored in two halves in a 68-67 win over Delta State on Dec. 14.
“I didn’t realize that, but I think this is a completely different game,” Helfer said. “You can’t compare those point totals because the Delta game was just a Gulf South Conference war, bodies flying everywhere. Tonight, it was very kind of an open court game.”
The Blazers’ regulars extended their lead in the second half, and had a chance to make a run at the school record of 136 points in a game. But Helfer removed his regulars with five minutes left in the game.
“I don’t ever really think about that,” Helfer said. “I’m just trying to make sure I get guys in there and balance some minutes, and hopefully avoid some injuries, knock on wood. I don’t look at records and things like that. If you start doing that, you’re going to get bit.”
The Blazers entered the game averaging 109 points per game against the Cougars, with an average margin of victory of 52 points. They exceeded the points per game mark, but missed the average victory margin.
VSU hit 16 of 31 3-pointers, while the Cougars hit just 3 of 23 threes. VSU shot 63 percent from the field. Harris hit 8 of 11 from beyond the arc.
Billy McShepard had a double-double, with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The competition gets tougher immediately for VSU. The Blazers open the grueling Gulf South Conference schedule next Thursday, when they host rival North Alabama. Two days later, they host No. 11 Alabama-Huntsville, the preseason pick to win the GSC. After that, it’s on the road to face No. 3 Augusta State on Martin Luther King Day.
“It’s going to be a tough stretch, but if you’re going to consider yourself one of the top programs in the country, you have to play teams like that. We will,” Helfer said. “It starts with North Alabama, and we won’t look anywhere past the Lions, because they’re very powerful in potential. We have to bring it to beat them.”