MONTEVALLO, Ala. (vstateblazers.com) — For the first time in Valdosta State men's basketball history, the No. 17 Blazers won the Gulf South Conference Tournament title after a thrilling 75-70 win over Alabama Huntsville Sunday afternoon on the campus of University of Montevallo.
The victory awards VSU the automatic bid from the Gulf South Conference into the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball South Regional, hosted by VSU Mar. 13-16 at The Complex."You dream about this moment for so long," Blazer basketball head coach Mike Helfer said. "You just try to get in a position to win the conference tournament and today, we earned that, and we played great. It's so hard to make it this far and it's even harder to win it and I'm just proud of my team for getting it done. As a coach, I wanted to help lead a team up that ladder and that's what we were able to do here."
The Blazers now await the announcement for the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Tournament on where it will be seeded. The NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Selection Show is scheduled for Sunday, Mar. 7 at 10:30 p.m., and will be streamed live on NCAA.com. Click on the link to the right for the link to the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Selection Show.
VSU (17-4) earned its revenge from last year's GSC Championship title game loss versus Alabama Huntsville, taking down the No. 1W-seed in the GSC Tournament and No. 11-ranked Alabama Huntsville in a tight-knit game from beginning to end. The title marks the Blazers' first GSC postseason championship in its seven attempts. VSU now is 24-25 all-time in 26 appearances in the GSC Tournament.
Guardian Bank Player of the Game and GSC Tournament Most Outstanding Player, senior Burke Putnam, recorded his third double-double of the season and second in-a-row. Putnam went 9 of 17 (.529) from the field for a season-high 28 points, along with snagging 12 rebounds and a team-high seven assists. Junior Jacolbey Owens finished with 16 points and brought down five rebounds. Senior Imoras Agee and Owens were named to the GSC Men's Basketball Championship All-Tournament Team. Agee finished with 15 points and five rebounds.
"Everybody has a winning mentality," Putnam said. "We just had to stretch the game out and control our defense. Like I said last game, as long as we play defense we can win, and I feel like we played it the best today."
The Chargers (14-3) were led by a game high 33 points from Sam Orf who shot 12 of 22 (.545) from the field with five deep balls and 17 rebounds. The Chargers finished with two players in double figures with Seth Swalve finishing with 14 points and four triples. Orf was named to the GSC All-Tournament Team and was named GSC West Division Player of the Year for the season.
The Blazers came out ready to roll as Putnam made the first bucket of the game moments before Jacolbey Owens nailed a three for an early 5-0 lead. The Chargers answered right back with a three with a jumper to tie things up. Tied at seven with five minutes gone, the Blazers pulled away with seven straight points for a 14-7 lead with 10:43 left in the half.
Later, a good ball from three from Swalve pulled the Chargers within one with 8:36 left to play in the half at 14-13, but a Putnam jumper and an Owens trey quickly saw the margin grow. The Chargers would answer, and scored seven of the final eight points of the half to close the Blazer lead to three at 28-25 heading at intermission.
The Blazers outshot the Chargers in the first half as VSU was 12 of 32 (.375) from the field where UAH was 10 of 32 (.313). Both teams made a trio of baskets from deep. The Blazers controlled the glass, pulling down 24 boards compared to the Chargers 20 and both had five offensive rebounds. The Blazers were able to convert seven points off the Chargers seven turnovers where UAH converted eight of its points off VSU turnovers.
Putnam came out hot as he drained a three to start the scoring for the Blazers in the second half. After a pair of Charger free throws, junior Maurice Gordon slammed down a dunk to give VSU energy, starting a commanding 12-2 run over the next four minutes with help from four different Blazers and a 45-29 lead with 14:53 left. The Chargers ended the run with a triple from Orf, but Putnam would answer with a big three to put the Blazers up by 16 moments later at 48-32.
Alabama Huntsville would answer with a three as it started to slowly claw back and eat into the Blazer lead. The Chargers drained four balls in a row from deep to cut the big lead to just six with 11:45 left to play in the game at 50-44. With momentum on its side, the Chargers tied the game at 52 with a little more than seven minutes left to play in the second half as it responded with a 23-7 run since the 14:53 mark.
The gritty Blazers dug deep as Owens came up with a big jumper to break the tie and then hit a massive three pointer to swing the momentum towards the Blazers at 58-53 with five and change left. Owens finished the game 6 of 11 from the field and drained a team-high four 3's in the game. UAH scored a three of its own from Max Shulman, but Agee had the answer with a deep ball of his own to give the Blazers a five-point lead at 61-56 with 4:28 remaining.
A pair of free throws from Putnam with a little over a minute left to play in the ball game nearly put the game out of reach at 67-59, but the Chargers wouldn't go away as they sank a three from Swalve to cut the deficit to 67-62 with 59 ticks left.
Putnam again came up big in the final minute as he was able to make key free throws to stretch the lead to seven at 69-62. Two free throws from Orf followed but, Putnam was good at the line once again for a 71-64 lead with 30 seconds left. Owens came up with a huge steal and junior Maurice Gordon was fouled making two tosses with 18 seconds left and a 73-64 lead. Swalve buried another trey for a 73-67 margin with 13 seconds left and Putnam was immediately fouled, converting another two tosses for a 75-67 advantage with nine seconds left. Orf knocked down a triple at the buzzer for the final 75-70 margin. Putnam finished the game 6 for 6 in free throws over the final 1:11, while the Blazers were 8 of 8 from the line down the stretch as a team.
For the game, VSU went 26 of 57 from the field for a 45.6 percent clip, while it was 9 of 31 from deep (29.0) and 14 of 19 from the line (73.7). VSU pulled down 36 rebounds, while UAH had 43 rebounds. The Blazer "D" held UAH to 35.8 percent shooting for the game on 24 of 67, while it was 13 of 36 from range and 9 of 14 from the line. The game saw three ties, as VSU led for 36:05 minutes and never trailed.