VALDOSTA –– Redshirt sophomore Jakari Gallon posted a double-double in No. 9 Valdosta State's 86-70 win over Shorter Saturday afternoon.
Gallon scored a career-high 17 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in 26 minutes as the Blazers (5-0, 5-0 Gulf South Conference) swept the weekend series against the Hawks (1-3).
A day after posting two points and two rebounds, Gallon bounced back, playing with high energy and activity. The 6-foot-7 forward made seven of his 12 shot attempts and 3-of-4 at the free throw line with one blocked shot.
Gallon said of his breakout performance, "I feel like I just played more calm –– made sure I took my time on my dribble, made sure I spotted up and shot the ball right, just wanted to make sure I took my time on everything and that's what I did."
Imoras Agee led the Blazers with 18 points along with five rebounds and three assists. Cam Hamilton added 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range and Jacolbey Owens went a perfect 6-for-6 from the field for 13 points off the bench.
The Blazers led by as many as 27 points in the game, taking a 60-33 lead on a dunk by Agee by 14:38 left in the ballgame.
Playing with the large cushion, the Blazers grew complacent as the Hawks outscored the Blazers 22-11 over the next 11 minutes and 11 seconds to cut the deficit to 12 on a layup by Jay Shropshire with 3:27 to play.
Owens responded with a tough jump shot in the lane, followed by an aggressive attack for another finish to push the VSU lead to 16 with 1:13 to play, staving off a potential comeback by the Hawks.
The Blazers held leads of 20-plus this weekend and came away with wins of 16 and 14 points. On Saturday, the Blazers shot 49.3 percent and 9-of-24 from 3-point land and won the rebounding battle 44-33. However, the team made things closer than they should have been by committing 15 turnovers for 17 Shorter points.
"I just thought we got sloppy and played inefficient in the second half," Blazers head coach Mike Helfer said. "It's hard to keep your focus when you have a big lead, but we also have to learn that when you allow teams to come back on you, sometimes you can't stop it –– especially against really good teams. We've got to learn from that second half, not only today but even yesterday."
Following Friday's win against the Hawks, Helfer said his team needed to do a better job defending the Hawks' 3-point shooters.
Less than 24 hours later, Helfer's message got through loud and clear.
After making 12-of-28 from beyond the arc in Game 1, the Hawks shot an abysmal 3-of-22 from 3-point range on Saturday.
"We closed the space," Helfer said of his team's effort on the perimeter. "We respected them off the dribble drive and we closed the space and forced them one way. Each guy, we had a plan of how we were going to guard him. We were able to do that and I think that affected them and didn't give them clean, catch-and-shoot 3s if that makes sense. Most of their 3s were off one dribble or trying to get away from a guy and I thought it was very effective for us."
The Blazers led the Hawks 43-26 at the half behind 11 points and five rebounds from Agee in 18 first-half minutes.
VSU shot 48.5 percent from the floor and 5-of-11 from beyond the arc. Conversely, Shorter shot 37.5 percent and missed 11 of their 12 three-point attempts in the first half.
The Blazers stormed out of the gate to go ahead 24-4 with 12:43 to go in the first half.
The lead dwindled slightly to 12 on a fastbreak layup by Jaden Dunham with 6:32 to in the half, but the Blazers answered with a 12-4 run capped by a layup and a three-point play by Gallon to push the lead back to 20 with 1:28 to go before halftime.
Charles Botchway led the way for the Hawks with 19 points. Kelan Walker added 16 points and four rebounds, while Shropshire and Dunham scored 10 points each in the loss.
GAME 1: Blazers 99, Hawks 85
Senior Imoras Agee and junior Cam Hamilton scored 20 points apiece for the Blazers in a 99-85 win Friday night.
For the Blazers, it was their first home game in 311 days.
"It's been about 300 days, it feels good, man," Hamilton said of being back at home. "We finally got back here. (The Gulf South Conference) canceled some games, postponed some games. It feels good just to be back and have the fans cheering for us and going up and down the court. I'm just thankful."
Agee connected on 7-of-12 field goals on the night, grabbing seven rebounds and handing out a pair of assists in 29 minutes. Hamilton scored 11 of his 20 points in the second half, burying a team-best four 3-pointers in the win.
Trailing by 19 points at the half, the Hawks stormed out of the locker room with energy to open the second half.
A flurry of 3s by the Hawks cut the lead to 58-44, forcing Blazers head coach Mike Helfer to call for time with 16:48 left in the game.
Out of the timeout, Maurice Gordon collected an offensive rebound and slammed it home to stop the run. Soon after, Agee and Shorter's Bentley Grove traded baskets before Hamilton buried back-to-back 3s and a pair of free throws to push the VSU lead back to 20 with 13:50 remaining.
A layup by Gordon with 11:35 to go ignited another Blazer push as Agee blocked a 3-point attempt by Ricky Knight Jr.and finished a two-handed slam in transition to get the crowd on its feet.
Following a jumper by the Hawks' Jay Shropshire, Agee capped an 11-6 run with a layup to give the Blazers an 85-60 lead with 7:28 left. The Hawks would get no closer than 14 points the rest of the way.
Charles Botchway posted a double-double for the Hawks, finishing with 22 points and 12 assists in 38 minutes. Botchway scored 16 second-half points to keep the Hawks in striking distance. Knight Jr. had 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting, knocking down four 3s in seven tries. Shropshire added 13 points and four rebounds and Kelan Walker chipped in with 10 points in the loss.
Shorter: Visits Auburn Montgomery for a weekend doubleheader Friday, Jan. 15.
Valdosta State: Hosts West Florida (2-1) on Tuesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
"Shorter's really athletic," Helfer said. "I thought that would get us ready for West Florida. They're very well-coached. For us, it's so early in the season –– this was our fifth game. We're still learning and learning how to prepare and how to adjust at halftime and things like that. One, there's a lot of respect for (West Florida coach) Jeff (Burkhamer); he's a good friend of mine. I expect them to be ready to play and be a tough matchup for us. We've just got to come out and play hard."