VALDOSTA –– For the first time in 289 days, No. 16 Valdosta State men's basketball plays host to the Montevallo Falcons (1-0) tonight.
The Blazers (1-0) embraced the grind in an ugly 62-60 win in their season opener against West Georgia on Saturday.
Rust was apparent for the Blazers, who shot 37.1 percent from the floor and committed 18 turnovers against the Wolves. With no other Blazer reaching double-figure scoring, senior guard Imoras Agee had the best game of his VSU career –– pouring in a career-high 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.
“I thought that Agee was one of our guys that played with a lot of composure,” Blazers head coach Mike 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.”
While the offense sputtered, the Blazers' new-look roster made life difficult for the Wolves –– holding them to 30.6 percent shooting and forcing 12 turnovers. As the game trended toward trench warfare, the Blazers out-rebounded the Wolves 52-41 with 17 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end.
Redshirt sophomore Jakari Gallon grabbed a career-best 13 rebounds along with eight points in his first career start.
“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.
“Jakari’s just that type of kid. 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.”
Montevallo also picked up a 75-72 win against West Georgia in its season opener Dec. 9.
The Falcons, who finished the 2019-20 season with a 12-17 record, are projected to finish third in the Gulf South Conference East Division behind Valdosta State and Lee.
Senior guard Xavier Malcolm buried six 3-pointers and scored 22 points to lead the Falcons in the opener. Travarus Carroll contributed a double-double with 14 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in the win while Caleb Coleman added 12 points, four rebounds and three blocks.
The Falcons shot just under 42 percent from the floor in the win, going 7-of-26 from 3-point range.
Coincidentally, the last time the Blazers played a home game was against the Falcons in the first round of the GSC Tournament. The Blazers defeated the Falcons 96-73 behind Burke Putnam's 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
Putnam struggled mightily in the opener at West Georgia, missing nine of his 10 shot attempts and finishing the game with five points and four turnovers in 34 minutes.
“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.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at The Complex.