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Gritty Lady Blazers Dig Deep to Upend Delta State in Closing Minutes of Gulf South Conference Quarterfinal

Posted at 11:43 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 23:44:02-05

VALDOSTA, Ga. (VALDOSTA STATE ATHLETICS) — Trailing for a season-high 34:57 seconds of the contest, the No. 6 Valdosta State women's basketball team dug deep in the closing minutes to pullout a 55-51 victory over upset-minded Delta State in the 2021 Gulf South Conference quarterfinal Tuesday evening at The Complex.

VSU improved to 17-2 on the year and now will host No. 3E-seed Lee on Friday at 5 p.m. in The Complex in the semifinal round of the conference tournament. VSU won two of the three matchups with the Lady Flames this season, including a thrilling 80-76 overtime victory in Valdosta on Dec. 19, 2020. The Lady Blazers then snapped Lee's 30-game home winning streak with a split of two games in Cleveland, Tenn., Jan. 15-16, 2021. VSU won the Jan. 16 matchup 63-57.

Tickets are on sale now for Friday's matchup with the Lady Flames in the VSU Athletic Ticket Office or by calling 222-333-SEAT (7328). Tickets are $10 for reserved seats (all ages), $7 for adult general admission and $3 for ages 5-College w/ID) and seniors (age 65+). VSU students are admitted free with their student ID.

VSU improved to 23-26 all-time in the GSC Championship, and qualified for the semifinals for the 17th time. The Lady Blazers have reached the finals eight times and won three titles in 1983, 1984 and 2017.

The Lady Blazers, who had not played in over two weeks due to their bye week and their regular season finale series with West Florida getting canceled due to GSC medical procedures last weekend, found it tough sledding for much of the game. VSU battled through an injury to first team all-conference selection and leading scorer, senior Kayla Bonilla, just four minutes into the contest, but got strong performances from GSC East Division Player of the Year and First Team All-GSC East Division selection, graduate student Kwajelin Farrar, and Second Team East Division all-conference honoree Jirah Ards. Ards was named the Guardian Bank Blazer Player of the Game.

Ards finished with 13 points on 4 of 13 from the field, 1 of 2 from range and 4 of 6 from the line, while pulling down five rebounds with two assists and a team-high five steals. She played all 40 minutes of the game and was huge throughout the contest. Farrar scored a team-high 14 points on 6 of 10 from the field and 2 of 4 from the line, while recording five rebounds.

As a team, VSU struggled offensively against the physical Delta State Lady Statesmen, shooting just 32.8 percent for the game on 19 of 58 from the floor. The Lady Blazers were just 2 of 12 from deep, but made up for it, going 15 of 20 from the line while DSU was just 7 of 11 from the stripe. The Lady Blazers outrebounded DSU 46-37 for the game.

DSU's West Division First Team All-Conference selection in Zyaire Ewing scored 14 points and pulled down 11 rebounds to pace the Lady Statesmen on 6 of 18 from the field and 2 of 3 from the line. Ewing had eight points and seven rebounds at halftime, but thanks to second half adjustments by the Lady Blazers, was held to just six points and four rebounds in the second half. She tallied a career-highs with 27 points and 24 rebounds last weekend at West Alabama. Second Team All-West Division honoree Shaniyah Buford finished Tuesday's game with 13 points and three of DSU's four treys in the contest.

The Lady Statesmen finished the season at 7-11 overall and shot 20 of 58 from the field for 34.5 percent, while going 4 of 16 from range and the aforementioned 7 of 11 from the line. DSU had 37 rebounds in the game, while VSU held a 23-14 lead in points off turnovers, including 17-8 in the second half as the Lady Blazers made their comeback.

VSU trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half and trailed 13-4 through the first quarter for the lowest output in a quarter this season. The Lady Blazers were just a season-worst 2 of 17 from the field in the first quarter, while DSU wasn't much better at 5 of 16, but the Lady Statesmen made two triples and was 1 of 2 from the line.

In the second quarter, the Lady Statesmen stretched the lead to 22-9 on a layup from Alanna Smith in the paint and, later, held a 12-point advantage with 3:08 left in the half on an "and one" from Buford at 26-14. From there, VSU began the comeback, outscoring DSU 8-2 the rest of the quarter for a 28-22 deficit at intermission. It marked just the fifth time this season VSU had trailed at halftime (3-2).

VSU opened the second half on a 10-5 run and cut the deficit to two with a 6-2 start, but a big trey from Buford pushed the lead back to five at 33-28 with 6:52 left in the quarter. A jumper from Farrar and a layup from Ards cut the deficit to one at 33-32 with 5:23 left in the frame.

Ewing had the answer and pushed the lead to three, while Buford followed with another triple as the Lady Statesmen would build the lead back to as many as eight. VSU, however, didn't panic as it rattled off another key run to pull within one at 42-41 with 32 seconds left in the frame. The Lady Blazers used an 8-0 run since the 1:46 mark, but, with two seconds left in the quarter, Kirstin Brown gathered one of the Lady Statesmen's 11 offensive rebounds and put it back for a score and a 44-41 lead through three quarters.

Early in the fourth junior Kayla Frey used an "and one" to tie the game for just the second time in the contest at 44 with 9:24 left. DSU would have the answer each time VSU cut the deficit to one over the next six minutes, but credit VSU as it never let the deficit get greater than three during the stretch.

Farrar came up with a huge bucket off her own steal for a 51-50 deficit with 2:26 let and a steal from Ards followed by a tip in from junior Shanice Nelson put VSU up for the first time in the game at 52-51 with 1:50 left.

Ewing missed an open look and Farrar missed two charity tosses, but Nelson was clutch down the stretch, pushing the lead to 54-51 with 39 seconds left on two free throws and then sealed the game with 1 of 2 at the line for the 55-51 final margin.

VSU held the Lady Statesmen scoreless over the final 3:35 as DSU missed its final five shots and the Lady Blazers came up with three key steals during that time. Nelson also had a huge defensive rebound off Ewing's miss with 22 seconds left as she then was fouled making the final free throw for the four-point margin.