The Valdosta Daily Times
Both North Alabama’s women’s and men’s basketball teams rode big second halves to victory against Valdosta State at The Complex on Thursday night.
VSU’s women weathered North Alabama’s first half of constricting defense and 3-point barrage to claw out of an early 13-point hole before falling 76-68.
North Alabama stormed out to a commanding lead with a stifling defense that prevented VSU from getting a clean look at the basket, instead the Blazers turned the ball over at an alarming rate as the Lions built a 16-3 lead.
Midway through the first half Jocelyn Danley finally got a basket to go to give the Blazers just their seventh point, in the meantime the Lions racked up 20 points en route to what looked to be a comfortable win.
In danger of letting the game get out of hand, VSU finally got something going on the offensive side of the ball by getting to the rim and forcing the issue. The Blazers quickly closed the gap on the Lions to draw within six at half, 34-28, despite North Alabama shooting 7-of-9 from the 3-point line.
After being held scoreless in 13 minutes in the first half April Thomas scored six points in the first four minutes of the second half to get within four, but the Lions would never let the Blazers any closer. North Alabama went on a 11-3 run four minutes to once again distance themselves from VSU.
The Blazers still would not give in though, as once more they battled back, cutting the deficit to four on a great play from Jordan Waugh.
Waugh picked off a pass, made a nice around-the-back move to avoid a defender, and proceeded to go coast-to-coast for a layup to bring VSU back within four with less than two minutes to go.
Unfortunately, VSU couldn’t draw any closer asNorth Alabama scored on each of its final three possessions.
North Alabama 79
Valdosta State men 63
A close contest quickly evaporated as North Alabama scored 23 consecutive points early in the second half to bury Valdosta State.
It was a back-and-forth affair for much of the first half as both teams traded shots with their opponent, but neither team was able to establish a firm hold of the game.
Both teams shot comparably from the field as VSU shot 12-of-30 to North Alabama’s 12-of-27; neither team had a player score in double-digits and both teams had seven of their nine players score at least one point in an extremely balanced half.
VSU appeared to create breathing room late in the first half, holding a 33-24 lead thanks in part to a 23-14 rebounding advantage, but North Alabama whittled the lead back to three in the last two minutes as the Blazers took a 35-32 lead into halftime.
Every thing VSU did to take the lead in the first half, it did the opposite in the second half as the Blazers allowed the Lions to regain the lead early in the half and never look back.
Instead of getting into the paint, the Blazers settled for jumpshots; instead of pulling down rebounds, the Blazers bungled boards; instead of playing team basketball, the Blazers’ ball movement all but died as the Lions turned a three-point halftime deficit into a 17-point lead in the opening five minutes of the second half.
VSU opened the half with a Colin Cook layup to go up five, but that would be the last time the Blazers scored until eight minutes had elapsed. North Alabama shot 6-of-10 from the field and 8-of-8 from the charity stripe in between Blazer baskets as part of a 31-4 run that spanned more than 10 minutes of game play.
Despite the gigantic turn in momentum, VSU coach Mike Helfer’s explanation for the turnaround made North Alabama’s run sound simple.
“They made shots and we didn’t,” said Helfer. “We had some good looks and we didn’t make them. I thought they had some good looks, but also had some tough ones, but they made them and that was the difference in the first five minutes.”
The Blazers finally broke North Alabama’s run with a Jalen Crawford free throw, but the damage had already been done.
With eight minutes remaining in the game Rashaun Claiborne knocked down two free throws to push the Lions’ lead to 20 en route to handing the Blazers their third straight loss to an Alabama foe.
Cook finished with 12 points and nine rebounds and Murray had a game-high 15 as the Blazers fell to 12-8 and 6-8 in the Gulf South Conference.
VSU will try to bounce back at home when Union visits Saturday.