VALDOSTA, Ga. – The No. 9 Valdosta State men's basketball team opens March Madness Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. versus Montevallo in the quarterfinal round of the 2020 Gulf South Conference Championship at The Complex.
The Blazers enter with a 24-3 record overall and won their fourth-straight Gulf South Conference regular season title last weekend with a pair of wins at West Florida and at Auburn Montgomery. VSU has won 17-straight games and if the Blazers defeat Montevallo Tuesday, it'd tied the school-record for consecutive wins in a season (18) set during the 2017-18 season.
Tickets for Tuesday's game are available through the VSU Athletic Ticket Office in The Complex, or by calling 229-333-SEAT. Live stats of the game, along with audio/video streaming, ticket information and more can be found at vstateblazers.com on the men's basketball schedule page. The game will be broadcast on the radio on 92.1 WDDQ FM with Mike Chason having the call.
The winner of Tuesday's game will advance to the GSC Semifinal/Championship site at the Pete Hanna Center in Birmingham, Ala., for a semifinal matchup with the winner of No. 4-seed West Alabama versus No. 5-Seed Union on Mar. 7 at a time to be determined. The 2020 GSC Championship game is set for Mar. 8 at 4:30 p.m. ET. The other half of the bracket features Tuesday quarterfinal matchups between No. 2-seed Lee and No. 7-seed Auburn Montgomery, while No. 3-seed Alabama Huntsville battles No. 6-seed West Florida.
VSU enters the conference tournament as the top-seed for the fourth straight year and is hosting a home quarterfinal game also for the fourth straight year, going 3-0 in the quarterfinal round the three years. The Blazers last qualified for the GSC Championship Game in 2017, falling to Alabama Huntsville, 94-91.
The Blazers are 19-24 all-time in the GSC Championship as this will be their 25th appearance. VSU has never won the conference tournament championship, but has reached the semifinals 11 times and the finals five times. The 19 wins by the Blazers marks the third-most among current GSC members (Delta State 34, Alabama Huntsville 21) and fifth-most all-time in league history. The 11 semifinal qualifications are the third-most among current members and fifth-most all-time in league history.
This past weekend, VSU head coach Mike Helfer won his 300th game at VSU in the 80-66 win at West Florida last Thursday. Helfer is 301-140 at VSU in his 15th season and is 487-223 overall in 23 years of coaching. Helfer has guided VSU to four-straight 20-plus win seasons (eight 20-win seasons overall since he came to Valdosta State) and six trips to the NCAA postseason, including an Elite Eight berth in 2010. VSU has qualified for the NCAA postseason each of the last three years.
VSU has been outstanding through the 17-game winning streak as the Blazers are averaging a blistering 90.7 points per game on 581 of 1183 for a .491 clip from the field. VSU is 124 of 337 from beyond the arc (.368) and 256 of 363 from the line (.705). The Blazers are averaging 41.1 rebounds per game during the run, while averaging 17.1 assists per game, 8.8 steals and 3.8 blocks per game. The Blazers are turning the ball over at an 11.5 clip, but are forcing 16.8 turnovers per game for a margin of +5.3.
Individually, five Blazers are in double figures as senior Clay Guillozet is leading the way at 15.0 points per game on 93 of 187 (.497), while going a team-best 23 of 51 from beyond the arc (.451). He leads the team averaging 8.9 rebounds per game. Senior Darrell Jones is second in average at 14.9 points per game on 91 of 173 from the field (.526). He is 47 of 58 from the line (.810) to lead the team. Senior Bryce Smith is third in average (13.5) and second in rebounds per game (6.8). Smith is 94 of 218 from the field (.431), while leading the team with 23 blocks. Sophomore Cam Hamilton leads the team with 29 made triples.
Montevallo is making its ninth trip to the GSC postseason as the Falcons are 11-5 all-time and have qualified for the semifinals four times and also the finals four times, with three championships in 2004, 2005 and 2007.
This season, the Falcons are 12-16 overall and went 8-12 in the GSC. UM has lost its last four games after snapping an eight-game skid with a 76-74 win over Christian Brothers on Feb. 15. Montevallo began the season 11-4 and finished the regular season 1-12.
Leading the way for the Falcons this season is Wade Lowman, who is averaging 15.3 points per game leading four players in double figures. Lowman is averaging 6.8 rebounds per game to lead the team. He is a team-best 152 of 257 (.591) from the field, while draining 95 of 156 free throws. Jonas Parker is second in scoring at 14.1 points per game on 110 of 239 from the floor (.460). He has 18 triples and is 86 of 102 from the line to lead the team with an .843 free throw average. Cedric Jackson is third in scoring at 12.0 points per game and leads the team with 70 triples in 171 attempts (.409).
As a team, the Falcons are shooting .445 from the field for the season on 692 of 1554, while draining 189 from range for a .341 clip and are 370 of 509 from the line for a .727 average. UM is averaging 33.0 rebounds per game and scoring 69.4 points per game. Teams are shooting at a .453 clip against the Falcons, .351 from beyond the arc (238 3's) and 354 of 488 from the line (.725). The opposition is averaging 33.5 rebounds and 73.2 points per game.
In the two meetings with Montevallo this season, the Blazers won both, averaging 86.5 points per game and allowing 68.0 points per game. The Blazers shot .448 from the field (60 of 134), while holding the Falcons to 49 of 130 (.377) from the field. VSU was 17 of 40 from beyond the arc and 36 of 47 from the line (.766) making more free throws than the Falcons attempted (22-30). VSU forced 35 turnovers in the two games (17.5) and had just 23 miscues (11.5).
The teams have met just once in the GSC postseason with Montevallo winning 55-52 in Tupelo, Miss., in 2004 in the semifinal round as the Falcons went on to win their first league championship.
VSU moved up to No. 9 nationally in both the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and D2SIDA polls last week. VSU also moved to third in the latest NCAA Region rankings, which were released last Wednesday. Another region ranking will be released this Wednesday, prior to the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Selection Show scheduled for Mar. 8, 2020, and broadcast live on NCAA.com. Check back with vstateblazers.com for the link and time to watch the selection show later in the week.
For the season, the Blazers are averaging 89.4 points per game for 12th nationally and first in the GSC. VSU has a 14.3 scoring margin for 11th nationally and first in the league. The Blazers are 12th nationally and first in the GSC in rebounds per game at 41.1, while they are 14th nationally in defensive rebounds (28.8) and 43rd nationally in offensive rebounds at 12.3) as both lead the GSC. VSU leads the league in steals (224), while it is third in the league in assists (442) and fourth in blocks (108). VSU is 24th nationally in assist/turnover ratio at a 1.39 clip, while leading the league in assists per game (16.4) for 33rd nationally. VSU is 41st nationally in turnovers per game at 11.8, while also 41st in turnovers forced (15.9) and 13th in turnover margin at 4.1.
Individually, Guillozet leads the league in offensive rebounds at 2.85 per game for 57th nationally, while he is third in the league in defensive rebounds at 5.7 per game and third in total rebounds at 8.6 per contest. Guillozet is averaging a team-high 16.1 points per game for fifth in the league. He has made a team-high 165 field goals for the year and is third in the league in field goals made, while his 232 total rebounds are good for third in the league and 62ndnationally. Smith is fifth in the league in blocks per game at 1.2, while Jones is fourth in the league in rebounding at 7.5 per game. He is fourth in the league in defensive rebounds (5.5) and ninth in offensive rebounds (2.04). Jones' 195 rebounds are good for fifth in the league.