CARROLLTON, Ga. –– Too close for comfort.
Despite poor shooting and 18 turnovers, the Valdosta State Blazers (1-0) held on for a 62-60 win over rival West Georgia (0-2) on Saturday.
The outcome nearly went the other way on the final two possessions as Blazers' guard Imoras Agee clanked a pair of free throws with 6 seconds left that would've sealed the game.
Off the miss, the Wolves rebounded and barreled down the floor. With the Blazers' transition defense scrambling, West Georgia's Oronte Anderson pushed the ball up the floor and walked into an open 3-pointer from the left wing.
The shot looked to be good as it left Anderson's hands, but it caromed off the back rim as time expired –– giving the Blazers the two-point victory.
"I was proud of our guys," Blazers head coach Mike Helfer said. "Everybody talks about Mike Helfer playing uptempo, score 100 basketball. You've got to win the 62-60 games to be a great team. I just believe that now, and we were able to do that with our defense. Our defense played well."
Missed free throws aside, Agee was a Blazer with a flamethrower on Saturday. The senior guard scored a game-high 26 points, making 10-of-19 field goals and a sizzling 5-of-9 from 3-point range.
Agee's fifth triple of the game put the Blazers ahead 60-57 with 2:57 left.
"I thought that Agee was one of our guys that played with a lot of composure," Helfer said. "I didn't think he was rattled or panicked because it was the first game. I felt a little bit of that in our guys and we couldn't get settled down and that's just a lack of playing.
"You come in and play West Georgia, your rival, and it's a tie game with 4 minutes to go. I can't simulate that. I can't put our guys in those positions in practice. I thought Agee was just calm, mature and took control of the game."
Five-foot-eleven junior Cam Hamilton pushed the lead to 62-57 as he challenged 6-foot-7 Jalen Sasser at the rim and won with a crafty layup off the glass.
Though there wasn't a big crowd in The Coliseum, a segment of fans heckled the Blazers mercilessly throughout the game.
Hamilton yelled back after the score and flexed on his way back down the court.
"We knew from the jump there wasn't going to be many people here," Hamilton said. "We knew we had to bring the energy off the bench, we had to give energy to each other and just feed off of each other to dig it out and get a win."
The Blazers shot just 37.1 percent from the floor and 5-of-20 from beyond the arc –– all five triples coming from Agee.
The team also shot 11-of-20 from the free throw line –– 3-of-10 in the second half.
Defensively, the Blazers held the Wolves to 30.6 percent shooting and 7-of-27 from beyond the arc.
"These kids have not been in that position in nine months," Helfer said. "They're humans, You're going to miss some. That's what I told them in the locker room. They didn't let the missed free throws affect us defensively down the stretch. We were able to get some stops, rebound it and make a difference in the game. I hope the next time out, they're a little more comfortable and getting back to normal."
A key for the Blazers was their activity on the backboards. Valdosta State out-rebounded West Georgia 52-41 in the game, 17 of which were on the offensive glass, and scored 34 of their 62 points in the paint.
With both teams struggling to put the ball in the basket, Helfer believes his team's scrappy effort on the glass was critical.
"We believe that one of the critical stats on a short preparation season –– starting Nov. 9 practice and playing –– rebounding is something that may be overlooked," Helfer said. "We have really worked with our guys on trying to get to the glass and try to make a difference in the game on rebounding."
The Blazers led by as many seven points in the game, while the Wolves' largest lead came in the second half as back-to-back layups by Sasser gave the Wolves a 57-54 lead with 4:46 remaining.
Redshirt sophomore Jakari Gallon had eight points and a career-high 13 rebounds for the Blazers. Graduate transfer Travis Bianco added nine points and eight rebounds in his debut. Hamilton chipped in with eight points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals in the win.
"Jakari's just that type of kid," Helfer said of Gallon's performance. "The best thing about Jakari is he knows that's kind of his role on this team. His role is not to take a lot of shots. His role is to make layups and rebound and that's what he did tonight and that was the critical part. He got an offensive rebound on a free throw late in the game."
Deng Nhial led the Wolves with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Nhial also made three of his six 3-pointers and grabbed six rebounds in 39 minutes.
Wolves senior Kadeim Jones added 13 points in the loss.
AGEE'S CAREER GAME
Imoras Agee's 26-point effort was a new career-high, besting his previous high of 22 last season. Agee's five 3s in nine attempts were also career-highs.
Saturday's game saw tough senior season debuts for VSU point guard Burke Putnam and his counterpart, West Georgia's Oronte Anderson.
Putnam shot just 1-of-10 from the floor and finished with five points, three rebounds and four turnovers while Anderson shot 1-of-16 and 0-for-8 from beyond the arc to finish with five points, five rebounds and six turnovers.
FIRST OF MANY?
VSU true freshman Ricky Brown scored his first collegiate points on a layup with 12:35 to go in the first half. The Valdosta High School product was named Region 1-6A Player of the Year and led the Wildcats to a 24-4 record as a senior.
Valdosta State: Hosts Montevallo Wednesday at 7 p.m.
West Georgia: Visits Auburn Montgomery Tuesday at 7 p.m.