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March 9, 2013

Blazers keep season alive, beat Delta State

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Valdosta State used a 23-4 advantage in points from the free throw line to defeat Delta State 54-49 in the quarterfinals of the Gulf South Conference Tournament at the Pete Hanna Center on the campus of Samford University Friday evening.

With the victory, Valdosta State (18-9) will face top-seeded Alabama-Huntsville, the nation’s sixth-ranked team, in the conference semifinals today at 6:30 p.m. Eastern.  

The Blazers led for much of the first five minutes of the game before Delta State, which ended its season at 11-16, used a 10-2 run to grab the lead for the remainder of the half.

As it would for most of the night, Valdosta State struggled shooting during the Statesmen run as VSU missed all three of its field goal attempts, with the only Blazer points during the run coming on a pair of Josh Sparks free throws.

The Delta State lead continued to grow over the next five minutes, as it built a 20-11 lead 12 minutes into the game, before the Blazers began a comeback bid.

Sparks scored on back-to-back possessions to open the Blazer spurt before Patrick Diop pulled VSU to within four points. After a pair of baskets by DSU, David Murray and Shaquille Harris hit back-to-back three-pointers to close the Blazers to within a basket and Sparks closed the first half scoring with a pair of free throws that cut the VSU deficit to 26-25 at the intermission.

Valdosta State scored three of the first five points of the second half to even the contest, only to have the Statesmen respond to score 12 of the next 17 points to build a 40-33 lead with 11:25 to go in the game.

Neither team scored for the next four minutes before James Anacreon and Diop hit two free throws each to close VSU to within three points. Mike Weems connected on a basket for DSU to once again stretch the Statesmen lead to five, but Diop answered with a three-pointer and Sparks added two more free throws to even the contest at 42-42 with 4:19 remaining in the game.

Delta State responded with the next two baskets to once again take the lead, but those would be the final Statesmen points until Cornell Knight hit a three-pointer with four seconds remaining in the game.

Valdosta State reeled off 12 straight points during the Delta State’s scoreless drought, including seven points from the free throw line.

Sparks led all scorers with 21 points and tied for a game-high 11 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the season. He also had blocked four shots. Diop tallied his first career double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

VSU made just 13 of its 47 shots in the game to shoot just 27.7 percent from the floor, but owned a 40-37 advantage in rebounding.

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