The Valdosta Daily Times
The excitement surrounding the Valdosta State men’s basketball program is back.
After a dismal 2011-12 season, the new-look Blazers gave the crowd of over 1,600 a lot to cheer about Saturday night at the P.E. Complex, officially beginning the new year of VSU basketball in style.
From rim-rattling dunks to three-pointers to alley oops and blocked shots that sent the ball flying into the stands, the Valdosta State faithful had plenty to cheer about in the Blazers’ 85-62 season-opening win.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I am really thankful for our fans,” Valdosta State head coach Mike Helfer said. “I hate to make comments about last year, but this is a new year and I’m just thankful for how many people came out and supported us and gave us the positive energy.
“I was happy with our energy level. We made a lot of mistakes and we did some things wrong and we had some bad stretches, but all in all, I thought our energy level was really good. If we play hard and make mistakes or if we play hard and share the basketball and things don’t end up the way we want on the scoreboard, I can live with that. I like to coach that. I like kids that are willing to give me 100 percent for 40 minutes, and that is what we had tonight.”
Valdosta State got back to its old, traditional style of Mike Helfer basketball, running the floor and making big plays throughout the night. The style of basketball has worked in the past, producing an Elite 8 appearance in 2009-10. On Saturday night, that style of basketball worked again for the Blazers, who shot an impressive 49 percent from the floor as nine different Blazers scored, including five in double figures.
James Anacreon, a senior transfer from Division I Wichita State, finished with a game-high 16 points. David Murray finished with 14 points, while Josh Sparks, the team’s only returning player, and Patrick Diop each added 12; Shaquille Harris, who had the hot hand early in the game, finished with 11 points.
“We only had 10 guys tonight and nine guys scored, one person didn’t score, that is just awesome that we have team unity,” Sparks said. “We still have our two big guys coming back, so I just think it is going to be an awesome year.”
Valdosta State never trailed on the night, grabbing the lead on its very first possession when Harris connected on a 3-pointer from the corner. The crowd erupted.
A few possessions later, Sparks got his first dunk of the season, throwing down a two-handed jam. Once again, the crowd erupted.
Despite the early noise by the Blazers, the Knight Hawks managed to tie the game at 6-6. Then, Valdosta State took off, using a 14-0 run to grab a 20-6 lead. During that run, seven different Blazers contributed with points.
“I think it shows that we are very unselfish,” Helfer said. “Nobody is caring about who gets the points. Guys want to win and they want to do what it takes. We talked about sharing the basketball and I think everyone is willing to do that.”
After the Knight Hawks managed to bring the VSU lead back to just seven, the Blazers put together a 19-10 run to close out the first half to lead 39-23 at halftime.
The second half featured the Blazers add on to their lead, while withstanding a sloppy stretch where they missed five straight shots and allowed Point to close within 12 points. Following a pair of timeouts called by Helfer, VSU responded with a 13-0 run and built a 62-39 advantage.
“I wanted to make sure that our guys knew that we were in a sloppy mode,” Helfer said. “I used the timeout to sharpen us. I think it worked. We had some good rebound runs out of timeouts.”
Despite the win, Helfer and the Blazers realize there is plenty to improve on. For one, the Blazers shot just 27 percent (5 of 18) from 3-point range and committed 19 turnovers on the night.
“There was a little bit of the energy of the building makes it tough to shoot because you are so jacked up,” Helfer said. “I am not really worried about that. I’m worried about how we got sloppy with the ball. But again, some of those turnovers are because of hustle plays and aggressive stuff; I’m OK with that.”
NOTES: Several Valdosta State football players took to center court at halftime of the men’s game to thank the crowd for the support this season. Wide receiver Gerald Ford told the crowd “We are going to bring back the championship this year, but we need your support to do it." The VSU football team finds out its playoff destiny today at 5 p.m…the official attendance Saturday night was 1,635…The national anthem was performed by the St. John’s Catholic Youth Choir.