Valdosta Daily Times

February 1, 2013

Blazers win third straight

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Make it three in a row for the Valdosta State men’s basketball team.

The Blazers won their third consecutive Gulf South Conference game, beating the Union Bulldogs 81-70 Thursday night in Valdosta. The Blazers are now 13-5 overall and 5-5 in league play.

“We haven’t talked about stringing games together. We are just talking about taking it one game at a time,” Valdosta State head coach Mike Helfer said. “I think we are getting better. I think there is some stuff we have to work on, but I do think we are getting better, especially if you look at our turnovers. We’ve been able to keep those down the last few games.

“We just have to continue to make steps to progress towards February, and then obviously March Madness is right around the corner and anything can happen.”

Overcoming a slow shooting night, five different Blazers scored in double figures on the night. Led by senior Shaquille Harris’ 14 points, the Blazers never trailed and led by as many as 17 points in the second half, and cruised to the victory.

Senior James Anacreon finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. Josh Sparks finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, while Patrick Diop and Alan Love also contributed with 11 points in the win.

Two more Blazers, Colin Cook and Jarroid Johnson, each finished with eight points, a total team effort that Helfer was pleased with.

“When you do it by committee, a lot of guys feel like they had something to do with it,” Helfer said. “We have been using a little term, sweat equity. If you don’t have any money to put into it, just bring the hard work, the labor. Just bring something to the team each night we play, whether it is one minute, 10 minutes or 40 minutes. Just bring something.”

The Blazers led for the majority of the first half, with the exception of when Union grabbed a one-point lead on two separate occasions in the early minutes. From there, the Blazers led for the remainder of the half, building a lead as large as 10 points and as small as one.

After building the lead to eight points with 13:12 remaining in the first half, coming off a David Murray free throw, the Blazers allowed Union back into the game, closing within one point on two separate occasions.

The Blazers responded, though, by using a 10-1 run to build their largest lead of the half, 33-23.

Cook started the run with a jumper, and was followed up by a Harris 3-pointer, a Murray tip-in and another Harris 3-pointer.

In the second half, Valdosta State’s lead got to as many as 17. After Union closed within 10, the Blazers used a 9-0 run, consisting of four baskets from four different players, to grab their largest lead of the day. Then Cook, who was one of the players to score during the run, added a free throw to push the lead to 57-40.

Union closed back within 11, but the Blazers quickly responded with four quick points in transition. Harris cleaned up a Sparks miss and then Sparks finished a breakaway dunk after receiving the lob pass from Diop. The lead was 15, 66-51, with 5:54 remaining, and Union was forced to take a time out to try to stop the Blazers’ momentum.

“I thought that was a very critical part of the game,” Helfer said. “If we had not scored and it would have gone from (11) to six, it would have been a completely different last 4 1/2 minutes. I think our guys did a good job at responding.”

The time out by Union worked, even if for just a few minutes. Union used a 6-0 run to close back within 10, but then Anacreon dunked the ball home, forced a steal and allowed Sparks to clean up his miss, dunking the ball home and pushing the Blazers’ lead back to 14 points. Once again, Union tried to battle back, coming as close as 10 points, 72-62, with 2:36 remaining.

Union never got closer, and the Blazers were able to secure the win.

VSU hosts North Alabama on Saturday at 8 p.m. VSU will honor its new Hall of Fame induction class, which will be inducted during a luncheon earlier in the day.