PENSACOLA, Fla. – Behind a 28-11 spurt to begin the second half, the No. 9 Valdosta State men's basketball team posted an 80-66 victory at West Florida Thursday evening. With the win, VSU head coach Mike Helfer won his 300th game at VSU as the Blazers extended their current winning streak to 16 games.
With the win, VSU improved to 23-3 overall and 17-2 in Gulf South Conference play, while it earned at least a share of its fourth-straight Gulf South Conference regular season title. The Blazers are the first team in the league in men's basketball to either win or share four-straight league regular season titles without the conference being split into divisions.
Helfer, who is in his 15th year at the helm of the Blazers and celebrated his birthday Thursday, improved to 300-140 at VSU and is 486-223 overall in 23 years of coaching. He is the second all-time winningest coach in VSU men's basketball history behind James Dominey, who coached from 1971-2000 with a record of 436-243.
VSU can win the outright league regular season title with win Saturday at Auburn Montgomery. The game will be at 3 p.m. ET and Spencer Van Horn will have the call on 92.1 WDDQ FM. Fans can access links to live stats, audio/video streaming, ticket information and more at vstateblazers.com on the men's basketball schedule page.
If VSU wins the game Saturday, it will be the top-seed in the upcoming Gulf South Conference Championship next week. The Blazers already clinched a home game in the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament and would face No. 8-seed Montevallo at 7 p.m., in The Complex on Tuesday, Mar. 3, if the Blazers are the outright league regular season champions. Lee, who is the last team to beat VSU back in December, would be the top-seed in the tournament should Lee win at Alabama Huntsville on Saturday and VSU loses at AUM. In that scenario, VSU would host an opponent to be determined Tuesday as the No. 2-seed depending on the outcomes of Saturday's other GSC matchups.
Fans can purchase tickets to Tuesday's GSC Quarterfinal game at The Complex by visiting the VSU Athletic Ticket Office in the Athletic Department in The Complex, or by calling 229-333-SEAT.
The Blazers on Thursday evening used another strong outing from senior Clay Guillozet on 20 points and nine rebounds as he was 7 of 12 from the field and 6 of 8 from the line. Junior Burke Putnam added 16 points on 7 of 11 from the field and 2 of 2 from the line. Senior Bryce Smith chipped in 11 points on 4 of 6 from the field and 3 of 3 from the line for three starters in double figures. Sophomore Cam Hamilton added 17 points off the bench on 7 of 13 from the field, while making three of the Blazers' five triples in the game.
VSU shot 31 of 59 from the field for 52.5 percent, while it was 5 of 18 from beyond the arc (27.8) and 13 of 15 from the line, including 10 of 11 from the stripe in the second half. VSU held a 22-8 lead in points off turnovers, forcing 17 miscues by the Argos.
UWF, who qualified for the conference tournament last weekend, finished the regular season at 14-13 and 11-9 in league play. The Argos shot 42.6 percent for the game on 23 of 54, after opening the night 15 of 28 for 53.6 percent in a strong first half, which saw UWF lead 43-41 at the break. UWF finished 8 of 26 from beyond the arc and 14 of 21 from the line, starting 10 of 11 for the first half and finishing 4 of 10 in the second half at the stripe.
Tarik McKelphin had a game-high 21 points and eight rebounds, along with three treys and 2 for 2 from the line with a team-high eight rebounds. Cameron Cox added 20 points on 6 of 10 from the field and of 10 from the line, while he drained one trey. Jon Brown added 15 points.
In a slow start for the Blazers, Smith gave VSU its first lead of the game at 11-9 with 14:15 left on an "and one" as it started an 8-0 run. Three free throws for Brown put UWF up 26-23 with 8:16 left in the half, but VSU used a 7-0 run for a 34-29 lead with 6:04 left after a steal and score from Hamilton.
Cox hit a shot in the paint for a 43-39 lead with 1:27 left, but junior DeMarcus Addie pulled VSU within 43-41 with 25 seconds left for the halftime score. It was the second-straight game VSU has trailed at intermission and just the second since Nov. 30, 2019.
VSU quickly erased the deficit in the second half and the run was on for the Blazers, with a 6-2 run to start. Putnam caught fire in the second half with some big buckets and two free throws for a 55-48 lead with 13:51 left. The Blazers extended the run to 59-51 with 12:18 left on a jumper from Guillozet. He then hit two free throws for the first double-digit lead of the game at 61-51 with 11:02 remaining.
Brown answered at the other end to pull within eight at 61-53 with 10:21 left, but VSU then used a 10-3 run for a 71-56 lead capped on a jumper from Putnam with 6:11 left. A trey from senior Darrell Jones pushed the lead to a game-high 19 points late, as VSU settled for the 80-66 win.