The Valdosta Daily Times
Newcomers David Murray and James Anacreon posted new career highs and veteran Josh Sparks added a solid night from the floor, as the Valdosta State men’s basketball team improved to 3-0 Saturday night.
The Blazers routed the Florida Memorial Lions 83-60 in front of an announced crowd of 1,206 inside the P.E. Complex.
“I thought tonight was a very big win for our guys,” Valdosta State coach Mike Helfer said. “We challenged them coming off a sloppy second half (Friday) night. We knew Florida Memorial was good, and we just really wanted to come out and play well.”
That is exactly what the Blazers did Saturday night. They played well and stayed undefeated on the young season.
Valdosta State shot 51 percent from the floor (33 of 65). Murray and Anacreon scored 22 points each, while Sparks added 14. Anacreon and Murray each recorded career highs in rebounds, too. Anacreon hauled in 15 boards, while Murray finished with 11.
“At first (this season), we were playing and trying to see who could do this or who could do that, but now it is all about getting the (win),” Murray said. “It doesn’t matter who is on top, as long as we win. I can come out with zero points in the half and be happy, as long as we get the (win) at the end of the night.”
To Helfer, the unselfishness of his team is the reason for the early season success.
“That is the thing about our team, nobody is caring about who scores,” Helfer said.
For the most part, when the Blazers did score Saturday night, regardless of who it was, it came in the paint. VSU outscored Florida Memorial 56-22 inside the paint, which ultimately was the difference Saturday night.
“Our guys have really taken guarding a priority,” Helfer said. “And then offensively, we have really tried to attack the paint with cuts and dribble-drives and stuff like that. Obviously, that disparity is going to continue if we can keep that up.”
Florida Memorial came out on fire, connecting on three straight 3-pointers and 5 of its first 10 long balls to grab the early advantage over VSU. From there, the Lions didn’t convert another 3-pointer in the game, finishing 5 of 17.
Following the Lions’ quick start, the Blazers put together a 17-0 run to go from trailing 21-16 to leading 33-21. During the run, Murray scored 10 straight points, connecting on three straight 3-pointers to fuel the Blazers.
“I thought that was the best stretch we have played this year — that little seven or eight minutes,” Helfer said. “We got great shots, and it was really created by our defensive pressure. It was just fun to watch that; that is kind of the way I want to play. Our kids did a great job.”
After a Florida Memorial basket, the Blazers extended their lead to 13 points (38-25), before giving way to a strong 12-5 run to end the first half.
The Lions’ run to end the first half was capped off by a basket off an inbounds play at the buzzer, which left Helfer visibly fuming as he walked into the locker room for intermission.
“I was half mad at myself, because we hadn’t talked about that exact scenario in practice a lot,” Helfer said. “I will say this, I thought that basket, I don’t want to say it was good for us, but it changed our locker room. It took us from a relaxed locker room to, ‘Hey, this is a six-point game.’”
It wasn’t a six-point game for long in the second half.
The Blazers quickly added to their lead, using a pair of breakaway dunks from Alan Love and Shaquille Harris to go back up 10. That was the closest Florida Memorial would get to VSU for the remainder of the game.
Then Murray and Anacreon took over by combining to score 15 of VSU’s next 18 points. At the end of the duo’s run, the Blazers led 67-52.
“David is one of my closest friends on the team, and we just know how to play well together,” Anacreon said. “We sort of click. This is a brand new team, and everything is starting to fall into place.”
Sparks added a bucket and two free throws to put the Blazers ahead by 19, 71-52. From there, VSU used a mixed cast of characters throughout the remainder of the game to build a game-high 25-point lead.
Both VSU basketball teams host Albany State Tuesday night at the P.E. Complex. The women’s game begins at 6 p.m., with the men’s game starting at 8 p.m.