The Valdosta Daily Times
It might only be Jan. 19, but the men’s and women’s basketball teams at Valdosta State are in must-win scenarios today at West Florida.
The Lady Blazers, riding a two-game losing streak, will face the Lady Argonauts at 3 p.m. Eastern, with the men’s game following at 5 p.m.
Today’s games will be the final road games for the Valdosta State teams until Feb. 7, when they visit Alabama-Huntsville; they have four straight home games before then, starting Thursday against Christian Brothers.
“Playing on the road in this conference is very difficult,” Valdosta State men’s coach Mike Helfer said, “and winning on the road is very, very difficult.”
Both teams could use a win today in order to build momentum moving towards the home stand. With 12 games remaining until the Gulf South Conference tournament, and both teams currently sitting with records below .500 in conference play, wins are essential in order to move up in the conference rankings, which leads to a better seed in the conference tournament in March.
Heading into today’s game against West Florida, the Blazers are tied with the Argonauts for sixth in the GSC; both teams are 2-4 in conference play.
“At this point in time, every game is important,” Helfer said. “I wouldn’t put one game above the other. Any time you can somehow find a way to win on the road that is valuable. For us, we are trying to find a way to scrap one out on the road.”
If the Blazers are going to scrap out a win today against West Florida, they will have to improve on turnovers and free throws. During their three-game losing streak earlier this month, which ended last Saturday with a 91-88 overtime win over West Alabama, the Blazers shot just 61 percent from the free-throw line, which included a 52 percent performance in a 79-77 loss to Alabama-Huntsville Jan. 3 in Valdosta.
“I don’t know if I have a good answer other than practice them and have guys focus and mentally realize how important free throws are,” Helfer said. “Sometimes a miss here and miss there leads to more pressure on the next guy. So right now, we are just trying to get to the line and then make them.”
In the win over West Alabama, that is exactly what the Blazers did. They got to the free-throw line, shooting a season-high 42 free throws in the OT win. The ability to get to the line helped the Blazers erase a nine-point deficit with 3:36 remaining in the second half, to force overtime. Once in the OT period, the Blazers made six free throws to secure the win.
“I was proud, battling back from that deficit,” Helfer said. “I thought we had played a very good basketball game, strategically. We found ourselves down and I think we showed some character to not tank it in and fight back and get a road win.”
On the women’s side, the Lady Blazers enter today’s game riding a two-game losing streak where they’ve been outscored by a combined 75-39 in the second half.
They are now eighth in the GSC, although Union and Shorter, ranked No. 1 and No. 7 in the standings, respectively, are not eligible to compete in the conference tournament this season as they continue their transition in becoming full-time Division II institutions.
Today, the Lady Blazers can take a massive step forward by visiting the 3-11 Lady Argos, who are 0-6 in conference play.
Up next for the Lady Blazers: The only other winless team in conference play, Christian Brothers.
A pair of wins over West Florida and Christian Brothers would put the Lady Blazers with a 4-4 record heading into next Saturday’s game against Delta State, which enters today with a 4-2 conference record, but a 9-5 overall record.
Just like that, the VSU women could be right back in the mix of the GSC women’s basketball race.
During their two-game losing streak — a 67-44 loss to West Georgia and a 58-46 loss to West Alabama — the Lady Blazers actually led by one-point at halftime in each game. Then, in the second half, they went on massive scoring droughts, minutes at a time, committing several turnovers and showed an inability to get to the free-throw line.
Once at the line, the Lady Blazers haven’t been able to convert.
At West Georgia, VSU was just 4 of 9 from the line and then 9 of 18 at the line at West Alabama.