PENSACOLA, Fla. - (vstateblazers.com) — The No. 20 Blazers closed out its regular season on a high note, defeating West Florida and sweeping the regular season series by a final score of 76-69.
With Saturday's win, the Valdosta State Blazers finish first in the GSC East Division to secure its fifth straight season of capturing either the GSC regular season or tournament title. The East Division was comprised of seven teams with the Blazers leading in win percentage with a .778.
VSU (14-4, 14-4 Gulf South Conference) saw Guardian Bank Player of the Game Burke Putnam record his first career double-double as he put up 17 points during his team-leading 35 minutes with 11 rebounds. Senior Imoras Agee also recorded a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, his third of the season.
The Argonauts (7-12, 7-12 GSC) were led once again by 17 points from senior Tarik McKelphin, going five for 16 (.313) from the field along with 10 rebounds. The Argonauts finished with three players in the double digits for points while shooting 78% from the free throw line.
The Blazers rushed to a quick 9-4 lead with the help from three different scorers to give the team its largest first half lead. The Argonauts held on where it eventually tied things up at 17 halfway through the first half but Putnam was able to take the lead right back. Both teams were at a stalemate with UWF taking its first lead off two-straight layups with 7:40 to go but Ricky Brown was able to put the Blazers back with a jumper and a free throw. Now tied at 23 with four minutes left to play, the Argonauts took control of the game off back-to-back threes to open the game and give it the lead. Agee and Putnam were able to make it a four-point game on two separate occasions, but the Argonauts found its groove as it outscored the Blazers 12-5 in the final minutes to take a 35-28 lead into halftime.
The Blazers went 12 for 28 from the field (.429) as it outshot the Argonauts who shot 14 for 34 (.412), as the Blazers didn't see a basket from beyond the arch from 10 attempts while West Florida shot four for 16 (.250) from downtown. The Blazers controlled the boards during the first half, coming down with 21 where the Argonauts only recorded 17 and VSU took advantage of the Argonauts turnovers, scoring 16 points off the teams seven giveaways.
VSU came out of the locker room with an answer as Maurice Gordon got the scoring started for both teams off a pair of free throws which West Florida would answer with two of its own. Putnam made it a three-point game off more free throws, but it quickly turned to eight off a layup and three-pointer from the Argonauts. Agee and Gordon secured points to soften the deficit but UWF took control of the next few minutes as it went up by 10.
The Blazers stepped up and answered though as it proceeded to go on a big 13-0 run, capped off by a pair of free throws from Cam Hamilton, to take the lead with 11:22 left to play. West Florida finally answered and retook its lead at 52-51 but Putnam sank two free throws to give the Blazers the lead once again. UWF kept it close, but from there, the Blazers wouldn't look back as it went on a roll to go up 67-58 with 2:08 left to play, forcing the Argonauts to play catch up quick. The Argonauts put up a fight during the final minutes, but the Blazers pressured and maintained its lead, closing out the regular season on a 76-69 win.
Unlike the night before, the Blazers outshot the Argonauts where VSU went 26 for 63 (.413) from the field and made one three while the Argonauts shot 25 for 66 (.379) from the field with five balls from deep. The Blazers saw just 13 of its points come off the bench along with 48 points scored in the paint. The Blazers had the advantage with points off turnovers as it scored 16 points off 16 turnovers. A big factor of the game was free throws made as the Blazers saw the line 30 times and were able to make 23 attempts.
VSU has a quick turnaround time as its back in action Tuesday, Mar. 2 to face Delta State in the GSC Quarterfinals at The Complex. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. Fans can access links to live stats, audio/video streaming, ticket information and more at vstateblazers.com on the men's basketball schedule page.