BIRMINGHAM, Al. — Behind 29 points from junior Burke Putnam and 21 points from sophomore Imoras Agee, the No. 8 Valdosta State men's basketball team posted an 85-17 win over West Alabama in the first semifinal game in the Gulf South Conference Championship Saturday evening. The win gave VSU its school-record 19th-straight victory in a single season.
The top-seeded Blazers (26-3) now advance to their sixth league championship game in program history and are searching for their first league tournament championship. VSU last played in the league title game in 2017, falling to Alabama Huntsville, 94-91. VSU will now await the winner of the Lee vs. Alabama Huntsville game in the second semifinal Saturday evening. Sunday's Championship is set for 4:30 p.m. ET and will be available to watch on ESPN3 and the ESPN App. It also will be broadcast on 92.1 WDDQ FM with Mike Chason having the call from the Pete Hanna Center on the campus of Samford University.
VSU won 20-straight games for the school-record of consecutive victories carrying over a span of two seasons, beginning in 1960-61 season ended in 1961-62. With the win Saturday, VSU improved to 21-24 all-time in the Gulf South Conference Championship and the 21 wins marks the third-most in the history of the league and also third-most among current members of the conference.
The Blazers used another big second half to pull away from the Tigers (22-8) as VSU outscored UWA 46-34 in the final stanza after leading 39-37 at halftime. VSU led by as many as 14 in the first half with 5:24 left on a jumper from Putnam for a 36-22 lead, but UWA ended the half with a 15-2 run pulling within 39-37 on a triple from LaJuan Hardy with 36 seconds left.
Big second half runs have been the theme much of the season for the Blazers as the teams traded buckets early in the final half. Senior Darrell Jones, who finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, scored on a jumper off a steal from senior Clay Guillozet for a 46-43 lead with 15:50 left. Senior Bryce Smith extended the lead to seven on a jumper in the paint with 12:34 left. Since UWA's Ricky Dunnaway tied the game at 43 with 16:37 left, the Blazers used a 9-2 run for the seven-point advantage at 52-45 with just over 12 minutes remaining.
Jones buried a triple for a 59-49 lead with 10:13 left as VSU extended the run to 20-12 to begin the second half. Following a free throw from UWA, Jones scored in the paint pushing the lead to 11 at 61-50 with 9:05 left and then a miscue by the Tigers, led to a break away jumper from Putnam for a 63-50 lead on a steal from Guillozet.
UWA's Mike Davis pulled the Tigers within 12 at 69-57 on a pair of charity tosses, but an electrifying dunk from Agee pushed the lead to 16 at 73-57 with 5:24 left. Putnam added six free throws down the stretch for the 85-71 victory.
The Blazers shot an even 50 percent for the game on 30 of 60 from the field, while the Blazers were 4 of 15 from range and 21 of 25 from the line. The game saw three ties and three lead changes as VSU led by as many as 17 in the second half. Putnam finished the game 10 of 17 from the field and 9 of 11 from the line, while recording a career-best seven rebounds. Agee was 6 of 16 from the field, while going 3 of 7 from range and 6 of 6 from the line. Jones finished 7 of 11 from the field with one trey and five assists, while Smith was 3 of 6 from the field and 4 of 5 from the line with seven rebounds for ten points.
UWA shot 45.8 percent for the game on 27 of 59, while going 4 of 19 from range and 13 of 16 from the line. UWA had 31 rebounds, while VSU recorded 35 on the glass. The Tigers had all five starters in double figures, led by 18 points from Davis on 7 of 11 from the field, two treys and two free throws along with eight rebounds and a double-double from Dunnaway with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Hardy had 12 points, but was just 4 of 14 from the field, 2 of 8 from range and 2 of 2 from the line, while following out of the contest.