VALDOSTA –– Seven players scored in double figures as No. 12 Valdosta State (1-0) opened with a 109-81 win against Fort Valley State Friday.
The new-look Blazers held the Wildcats to 39.7 percent shooting and used their long, rangy, athletic defense to turn their handiwork into points.
in his 15th season at Valdosta State, head coach Mike Helfer said in the preseason the Blazers would be “different”. Through Game 1, he’s not bluffing.
“We played with great energy, I thought we played with a focus,” Helfer said. “There were stretches we were not as focused, but I thought we really came out and said, ‘We’re gonna guard,’ and held them to 39 percent shooting from the floor –– which is a tremendous defensive effort, so I was proud of that.
“(Length and athleticism) allows you to do some things defensively –– switch everything 1 through 5. I think it gives us some rim protectors, having Bryce (Smith) in there. Jakari (Gallon), Austin (Kelley) came in –– some long guys inside, so I think we’re able to dictate more defensively than we have in the past.”
The Blazers thrived in transition with 16 fast break points and in the paint, outscoring the Wildcats 52-32 inside.
Bryce Smith punished the Wildcats inside, going 7-of-10 from the floor and finishing with 18 points and two blocks in 25 minutes. Smith used his height advantage to exploit the Wildcats, pouring in hook shots with deep post position. Clay Guillozet also had 18 points, burying 6-of-9 field goals along with seven rebounds in the win.
The Blazers shot 51.5 percent from the floor, including 8-of-24 from beyond the arc and won the rebounding battle 46-38.
“Everybody’s excited,” Guillozet said. “Our first home game, a lot of new faces, everybody’s excited to see the atmosphere. We had a really good showing. I knew we were going to bring the intensity and bring everything we have. I’m proud of the guys –– everybody coming out, not forcing anything. Everybody’s playing well together, letting it come to them and I think that’s something special we have.”
Speaking of special, Blazers’ newcomer Imoras Agee started the game for the Blazers and poured in 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range. However, Agee’s best play came on the first Blazer possession of the second half.
Agee faked an entry pass from the right wing to Smith in the post, then took two hard dribbles toward the basket before elevating for an emphatic tomahawk slam that brought fans in The Complex to their feet.
Tyler Edwards had 14 points, five rebounds and two blocks for the Blazers. Darrell Jones added 11 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Burke Putnam and DeMarcus Addie each had 10 for the Blazers, while Hamilton finished with nine points and five steals.
Foxbrennen had a game-high 20 points for the Wildcats, Zachary Boggs added 16 points off the bench and Tristan Davis had 13 points, seven rebounds and two steals in the loss.
VSU women 85
Fort Valley State 54
Senior Cheray Saunders scored 19 of her 28 points in the first half as the VSU women (1-0) smacked Fort Valley State 85-54 Friday.
Saunders shot 11-of-16 from the floor and made 6-of-9 free throws along with four rebounds and four steals in 30 minutes.
First-year head coach Deandra Schirmer was pleased with the way defense flowed into offense as the Blazers scored 31 points off 22 Wildcat turnovers.
“We hit a little bit of a lull defensively in the second half, so we switched into our zone and our girls did a great job of responding and being really aggressive in that zone –– getting out, getting some tips, deflections and steals,” Schirmer said. “That ultimately led to a lot of easy points on the other end.”
After going 2-of-8 from 3-point range in the first half, the Blazers caught fire in the second as the team drilled 4-of-9 after halftime.
Sophomore Kayla Frey scored 14 of her 16 points in the second half – finishing 6-of-9 from the floor and 4-of-11 from the free throw line in 21 minutes off the bench.
As a team, the Blazers struggled from the foul line against the Wildcats, finishing 15-of-30 on the night. In addition to the free throw woes, the team committed 22 turnovers in the win.
While Schirmer will cherish her first win as head coach, she’ll have lots to look over on film from this one.
“It feels amazing,” Schirmer said of getting her first victory as a head coach. “After I get home and I start watching film, it might not feel amazing when I watch the 22 turnovers back, but the thing I like to think of is if we can tighten up those turnovers, that’s even more efficient that we can be. I’m really proud of the team and I’m really proud of how we battled.”
The Blazers led 37-21 at halftime, behind the strength of Saunders’ 19 points in 18 first-half minutes.
Delaney Bernard and Nari Garner each added 10 points for the Blazers, Saniah Simpson-Patu had four points, but pulled down 10 rebounds with three steals in the win.
Torri Myers had 13 points to lead the Wildcats while Nola Carter had 12 points in the loss.
Both the Blazers and Lady Blazers are back in action today, beginning with the women’s game at noon followed by the men’s game at 2 p.m.