The Valdosta Daily Times
The basketball season at Valdosta State is officially over.
The men’s basketball season came to an end in dramatic fashion Sunday evening when the Blazers lost a heartbreaker to Christian Brothers in the Gulf South Conference championship game.
The women’s came to an end later in the night, when the Lady Blazers failed to receive a bid to the NCAA South Region tournament.
Trying to capture the school’s first-ever men’s Gulf South Conference basketball championship, the Blazers fell to the Christian Brothers Buccaneers 65-62 in the conference championship game in Birmingham, Ala.
Despite out-rebounding the Buccaneers 41-23 in the game, the Blazers found themselves trailing late in the second half, after digging themselves out of a 13-point halftime deficit.
Trailing 65-62 with 3.5 seconds remaining, VSU’s Patrick Diop missed the front-end of a pair of free throws, before he missed the second shot intentionally to set up a possible game-tying 3-pointer.
Senior Josh Sparks made the rebound off Diop’s intentional miss and kicked it out to Shaquille Harris, whose desperation 3-pointer clanked off the rim as time expired.
The Blazers ended their season as Gulf South Conference runner-ups with a 19-10 record, a year after being routed by 31 points in the GSC tourney by the Buccaneers.
Sparks and Harris, both seniors, each finished with a team-high 15 points to lead the Blazers. Diop contributed with 12 points, and Alan Love finished with 10 points.
For Christian Brothers, five players scored in double figures on the night. Sophomore Trey Casey led the Buccaneers with 19 points.
The Blazers and Buccaneers were basically even throughout the opening minutes as the teams were tied at 10.
From there, Christian Brothers went on a 10-0 run to grab a 20-10 lead over the Blazers, who responded with a 6-0 run of their own to make the score 20-16.
That’s the closest the Blazers got in the first half. The Buccaneers reeled off a 17-8 run to end the first half to grab a 37-24 halftime lead.
Valdosta State used a pair of 3-pointers from Harris to close within seven, before Christian Brothers managed back-to-back field goals to lead 41-30. Then, VSU put together and impressive 11-2 run to close its deficit to 43-41.
Sparks carried the run, scoring seven points, while Love and Harris also added field goals. Christian Brothers eventually pushed its lead back to eight, 54-46, with under eight minutes to play, making three 3-pointers from long range.
Valdosta State closed back within two, 56-54, with five minutes remaining.
The Blazers’ run was aided by free throws. Diop made four free throws, while Harris made a pair during the run. Then, James Anacreon finished off a 3-point play — his only points of the game — which started with his steal, to make the score 56-54.
Christian Brothers pushed its lead back to five, before Harris banked a shot off the glass to bring the score to 61-58.
VSU’s deficit went back to five and then back to three after the teams swapped baskets. Then, with 11.4 seconds remaining, the Diop made a layup. Trailing 63-62, the Blazers were forced to foul, sending Christian Brothers to the free throw line.
The Buccaneers made both free throws — they were just 6-of-6 in the game — and led 65-62.
The Blazers played the majority of the game without junior David Murray, who left with an apparent knee injury early in the first half.
Upon leaving, Murray was seen sitting on the end of the bench with ice on his knee. He did not return.
The Lady Blazers’ season ended Friday when they were routed by eventual GSC champion Alabama-Huntsville in the tournament quarterfinals. They ended the season with a 16-11 record.