Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

January 7, 2014

Blazer basketball rolls on

VALDOSTA — On Monday, the Valdosta State Blazers (9-1, 3-1 in conference play) claimed their third conference of the season, coming away with an 82-74 victory over the Chargers of the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

The Blazers were able to slow the long-range prowess of the Chargers, limiting them to 8-25 on the night (32 percent).

“We can never stop (the Chargers) from long range,” Blazers Head Coach Mike Helfer said. “But we did a good job of limiting their chance at good looks. Offensive rebounds are a great time to get looks at three-pointers, and we did a good job at cutting those down.”

Leading the way for the Blazers in the win was senior David Murray. After ending the first half near a double-double (eight points, six rebounds), he exploded in the second, finishing the game with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

“Coming into this season, I had to take initiative,” Murray said. “Scoring is going to be there.  We have guys that can score.  It’s the rebounding aspect that we have to capitalize on and tonight we were able to do that.”

After the Blazers and Chargers played through a shootout in the early minutes of the game, the home team took advantage of strong efforts under the basket to take a 41-30 lead into the half.  

Early in the second half, the Blazers were able to once again contain the Chargers, limiting them to 4-13 from long range (30.8 percent).  

In addition to the outstanding efforts of Murray, junior Colin Cook was also a presence down low. He finished the contest with 20 points and seven rebounds.

“Playing against Huntsville, we already know that we have to limit offensive boards,” Cook said.  “It cost us huge last time we played them (in Huntsville).  From the moment we brought them up on the schedule, we knew we had to play hard and focus in order to get the win.”

A late barrage from the Chargers cut the Blazers’ lead down to one point with 8:33 left in regulation, but key plays from Murray and Cook, as well as stellar shooting from the free throw line, sealed the deal for Valdosta State.  After a poor performance at the line in the first half, the Blazers were able to connect on 16 of 20 from the line (80 percent) in the second.

“When a team makes a run at you, you can’t lose focus,” Helfer said.  “The experience of being in tight games helps.  We’ve been in three overtime games already this year.  Without focus a tight game can go either way.”

In the early matchup, the Lady Blazers (8-2, 3-1 in conference play) fought back from a 16-point halftime deficit to snatch an 89-81 victory from the hands of the Lady Chargers.  

“(The Lady Blazers) are competitive,” Lady Blazers Head Coach Kiley Hill said.  “They may get knocked down, but every individual on that team is always ready to get up and bounce back.”

After they shot only 8-29 from the field in the first half (27.6 percent), the Lady Blazers turned the tide in the second, connecting on 17 of 27 attempts (63 percent), while holding their opposition to 38.9 percent (14-36).

Leading the way was junior April Thomas. After going 1-6 shooting in the first half, she used a 22-point second half to turn the tide in the favor of the Lady Blazers.  

“April put us in position to gain tremendous momentum,” Coach Hill said.  “She laid the groundwork for so many other ladies to step up.  So many players stepped up and contributed to the win.  It was a tremendous effort.”

Junior Kourtnee Williams ended her night with 17 points and seven rebounds, while senior Kamiya Smith added 22 points.  Freshman Reshaundra Owens also made a major impact, finishing the night with 16 points (7-10 shooting) along with five rebounds and one block.

The Lady Blazers’ victory was a special one for Coach Hill, as it gave him his 250th win as head coach.

Both teams will see their next action on the road, as they head to Florence, Ala. to square off against the Lions of the University of North Alabama in what will be the first game of a four-game road trip.  The Lady Blazers are scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m., with the Blazers scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.

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