VALDOSTA, Ga. (VALDOSTA STATE ATHLETICS) — The Valdosta State men's basketball team battled back from as many as 14 points in the first half and tied the game on four occasions in the second half, but were unable to get the win as visiting West Georgia won 88-76 Thursday evening inside the Complex. The Blazers fell to 6-4 on the year and 3-2 in Gulf South Conference play, while UWG improved to 4-1 on the year and 4-0 in league play.
The teams will meet again on Jan. 28, 2023, in Carrollton, Ga., to conclude the regular season series. If VSU wins that game, it will earn a half a point in the Red Clay Rivalry Series for splitting the season series, but if UWG wins it will win the full point. UWG entered tonight's doubleheader with a 3.5 to 1.5 lead in the second annual rivalry series through the fall portion of the season. VSU won the women's game before the men's, 72-45.
All five starters for the Blazers were in double figures and not one player scored from the bench in the contest. Sophomore forward Caden Boser led the way with a season-high 24 points on 8 of 14 from the field, while going 4 of 7 from deep and 4 of 4 from the line to earn Guardian Bank Blazer Player of the Game. Senior forward Mohamed Fofana finished with 20 points on 8 of 15 from the field and 4 of 6 from the line, while junior forward Jay Rucker had 12 points and 11 rebounds for his first double-double of his Blazer career. Seniors Jacolbey Owens and Maurice Gordon each had ten points as Gordon finished with nine rebounds and Owens had eight assists.
The Blazers shot 27 of 62 from the field for 43.5 percent, while going 8 of 23 from deep for 34.8 percent and 14 of 20 from the line. UWG shot an even 50 percent from the floor on 36 of 72, while it also was 8 of 23 from distance and 8 of 13 from the line. The Wolves held a 42-36 lead in rebounding, while it forced VSU into 14 turnovers and led 19-0 in points off miscues. UWG had nine turnovers for the game.
Michael Zabetakis had a team-high 21 points for the Wolves on 8 of 16 from the field with two treys and 3 of 5 from the line leading five players in double figures. Jalen Sasser had 16 points and nine rebounds, while Camron Donatlan added 16 points with Cole Fisher finishing with 11 and J.J. Barnes added 10 points.
Boser buried a triple for a 6-5 deficit 1:23 into the contest. UWG opened the game with two from distance and then buried its third for a 12-6 lead with 16:44 left in the first half. UWG would stretch the lead out to six or seven points, but the Blazers answered pulling within five each time for a 21-16 deficit with 11:29 to play in the half.
From there, UWG scored ten of the next 14 points highlighted by five points from Barnes for a 31-20 lead with 8:13 remaining in the half. UWG began the half 12 of 22 from the field, while VSU was 8 of 24. Boser scored on a turnaround jumper for a 34-22 deficit with 6:30 remaining in the half. Boser pulled the Blazers within nine at 39-30 with 3:25 remaining in the half, but UWG had the answer at the other end with a bucket in the paint. With the shot clock winding down, Owens kicked out to Boser for a trey and a 41-33 deficit.
Boser pulled the Blazers with in five, once again, but Fisher hit another triple for the Wolves at the other end, pushing the lead back to eight. Owens found Boser for the "and one" with 1:02 left in the half as the toss gave Boser 16 points and pulled VSU within 44-39. Owens' two free throws made the score 44-41 with 33 seconds left, but UWG earned the "hoop and harm" at the other end for a 47-41 score at intermission.
For the half, the Blazers shot 43.8 percent on 14 of 32 from the floor, while they were 6 of 13 from deep and 7 of 11 from the line. UWG shot 17 of 37 from the field for 45.9 percent, while it also was 6 of 13 from deep and 7 of 10 from the line. Both teams had 21 rebounds. UWG held an 11-0 lead in points off turnovers, forcing the Blazers into eight miscues, while the Wolves had just four turnovers.
Boser leads the Blazers with 16 points on 5 of 8 from the field, while he is 3 of 4 from deep and 3 of 3 from the line. Rucker has 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds in the first half. For the Wolves, Fisher leads the team with 11 points on 4 of 7 from the field and 3 of 6 from deep.
Fofana sparked the Blazers to a big second half helping to a 16-4 run to tie the game at 57 with 13:32 left. VSU trailed 51-43 with 18:21 left as he scored all 16 points during the spurt. The teams then began trading buckets as the game was tied at 61 with 11:25 to play.
Zabetakis scored two buckets for a 65-61 lead, but Boser had a score at the other end to pull the Blazers within 65-63 with 7:43 to play. It was Boser's 18th point of the game, while Zabetakis had 14 for the Wolves. UWG earned an "and one" for Jalen Sasser for a 68-63 lead and 7:17 left. Following a miss by the Blazers, Donatlan scored a triple for a 71-63 lead and then a goaltending call on the Blazers for a 73-63 UWG lead leading to a timeout by VSU with 6:03 to play.
Boser ended the spurt with the "hoop and harm" for his 20th point of the game and 5:38 to play with a 73-65 UWG lead. Following a bucket from Sasser, Fofana scored his 20th point for a 76-68 deficit moments later. Senior Maurice Gordon drained one from deep for a 77-71 deficit and 3:59 to play, but Zabetakis answered with a triple at the other end, pushing the lead back to nine at 80-71. Another goaltending call on the Blazers pushed the UWG lead to 82-71 for the final media timeout of the regulation at the 2:53 mark.
Owens hit two free throws for an 82-73 deficit, but Zabetakis pushed the lead back to double-digits at 84-73 with two minutes to play and went on for the 88-76 victory.
VSU, who dropped its second-straight game after a heartbreaking 106-101, double overtime loss on Monday at Mississippi College, returns to action on Dec. 11 at 4 p.m. versus Union inside the Complex.