written by: Shane Thomas
After dousing the Flames in their last outing, Valdosta State (12-5) is on the road looking to tame the West Alabama Tigers (10-8) Thursday night.
The Blazers came back from 17-point deficit to cruise past Lee Feb.1. Jalen Crawford scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half and Blake Justice, who was dormant most of the night, erupted for 19 second-half points and made five of seven three-pointers in the game-changing run.
VSU looks to continue its winning ways against the Tigers, who have dropped their last three games.
In the teams’ last meeting Jan. 4, the Tigers hung around most of the contest before the Blazers were able to pull away for a 93-83 victory.
UWA leading scorer Desmond Raymond played exceptionally well against the Blazers. Raymond scored 28 points and a season-high six three-pointers in the last meeting.
Blazers head coach Mike Helfer praised Raymond’s scoring ability.
“He’s a very efficient scorer,” Helfer said. “It looks like it comes easy to him. We need to contest his shots but not be so far out that he can go by us easily. He’s one of the top guards in the GSC.”
Though Raymond is now UWA’s leading scorer, swingman Sandy Underwood led the team in scoring leading up to the first matchup. With Underwood being held to just four points of two-of-10 shooting, forward Lleon Tillman stepped up with a season-high 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against the Blazers.
When asked about his plan to contain those players, Helfer believes doing so is all the team can accomplish heading into Thursday’s game.
“[Underwood and Tillman] are very good players and containing them is a good term,” Helfer said. “You can’t stop them both, but hopefully you can make them work hard for their points and wear them down a little.”
The Blazers won their last two games to finish their three-game home stand and have done so by altering their offensive approach.
With their early struggles from beyond the arc, Helfer has decided to employ a dribble-drive offensive attack, a style UWA also excels at.
“The dribble drive puts us in a mentality of attacking the basket,” Helfer explained. “It puts a lot of pressure on the defenders to play without fouling. For those exact reasons, West Alabama is very difficult to guard.”
Blazers guard Jalen Crawford expects a well-prepared UWA team Thursday night.
“We expect them to come out aggressive,” Crawford said. “They’re going to try to beat us early. We’ve got to withstand their first couple of runs, and if we do, we can win on the road.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. from Pruitt Hall in Livingston, Ala.