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January 24, 2014

Coming up short

Ranked Delta State men, women edge VSU

VALDOSTA — With perfect 7-0 home records the Valdosta State men’s and women’s basketball teams had a chance to make a big statement in the Gulf South Conference by knocking off conference leading Delta State, but the Blazers came up just short on both attempts.

The Gulf South Conference’s leading rebounder Willie Readus pulled down 17 of Delta State's 41 rebounds and Devin Schmidt scored 24 points as the Statesmen eked out a 72-68 win against the VSU men in The Complex on Thursday night.

The Blazers shot just 27.6 percent from the field in the second half as the Statesmen used their size and length to stifle VSU's offense in crunch time.

"I think they were very patient and I think they took very good shots,” said Valdosta State coach Mike Helfer. “They've been doing it all year.

"They're a really well-built basketball team with two big guys inside and guards that can shoot it and do a lot of different things. They're just well put together and that's why they're 15-2."

Valdosta State controlled the pace to open the game by playing solid interior defense and forcing Delta State into turnovers while making some tough contested shots to take a 9-4 lead through the first five minutes.

The Blazers held the lead through almost the entirety of the half, but the Statesmen never trailed by more than eight points at any juncture.

Almost all of Delta State's first-half scoring came in the paint as the bigger Statesmen continued to pound it in to Readus, also the GSC’s top scorer, in the post and Schmidt continued to attack the basket.

The proximity of Delta State's shots was evident as the Statesmen shot 60.7 percent from the field in the first half.

VSU was able to go blow-for-blow with Delta State's larger lineup by going 4-10 from 3-point land and nailing all seven of its free throws.

The Blazers were up 40-35 with about 30 seconds left in the half when Helfer called a timeout to setup one last play before halftime.

While attempting to run the play Jalen Crawford almost turned the ball over on an off-target pass, leading to a scramble for the ball. The loose ball bounced right into the waiting hands of Blake Justice for a 3-pointer to push the Blazers' lead to eight, but Schmidt took the inbounds pass coast-to-coast with about seven seconds on the clock and rattled in a layup and Valdosta State had to settle for a six-point halftime lead.

Schmidt's layup was just two of the forward's first-half high 16 points and four assists. With the Blazers containing Readus to the tune of eight points and five rebounds, Schmidt's early offense kept Delta State within striking distance.

Valdosta State turnovers and missed shots fueled another Delta State run at the beginning of the second half. The Statesmen pushed the ball off of Blazer miscues and a 3-pointer from Jack Madgen gave Delta State its first lead since early in the first half at 48-47.

Crawford made sure the Blazers wouldn't stay down long though. The younger brother of NBA guards Jordan and Joe Crawford elevated and knocked down a mid-range jumper to put VSU back on top, and on the next possession Crawford buried another to give the Blazers a three-point lead with just less than 12 minutes to go.

Seven and a half minutes later, Delta State retook the lead once more on yet another Blazer turnover. Madgen scooped up the loose ball and sprinted down court before finding Schmidt for a reverse layup to take a 67-65 lead.

To become the No. 20 team in the nation a team has to know how to close a game, and with the lead, the Statesmen showed why they had won 14 of their 16 games this season. Delta State held VSU to 1-8 from the field in the final four and a half minutes of the game while scoring seven points of its own to end the Blazers home winning streak at seven.

Helfer was impressed by how Delta State was able to finish the game with the lead.

Readus had 11 points and 12 rebounds in the second half as the Statesmen made their charge.

"You just don't see a lot of kids like that in Division II basketball,” Helfer said. “One so skilled, so big, and just knows how to play. I thought we did a decent job on him, but he was very difficult on the block."

Failing to protect a late lead has bitten the Blazers on more than one occasion this season, a trend Helfer needs to see ended if VSU is to be successful going forward.

"We've gotta score in the last 10 minutes of the game," said Helfer. "I think we've kind of run out of gas the last few times out."

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