This story was written by Shane Thomas.
The Valdosta State Blazers’ stifling defense forced 21 turnovers and defeated the Albany State Golden Rams (0-2) 90-77 Saturday night.
Leading by as many as 23 points in the game, the Blazers (2-0) turned their defense into transition offense as the Blazers earned 24 free throws in the second half.
The Blazers used a 16-2 run in the second half to put the Golden Rams on their heels. ASU got no closer than 10 the rest of the way.
“It was the first time that we kind of got the crowd going a little bit,” Blazers head coach Mike Helfer said of the game-changing run. “In that run, we made consecutive shots and got consecutive shots. You could feel the energy start to build up and our guys fed off that.”
Junior guard Blake Justice scored a game-high 21 points. Senior Colin Cook bounced back from a tough opener to score 15 points and block three shots in the victory.
“I just felt like I wasn’t being aggressive [against Lane],” Cook said. “Sometimes, it’s just about getting the jitters out, coming out and stepping it up for your teammates the next game.”
The Blazers forced 12 second-half turnovers, keyed by the play of sophomore point guard Josh Lemons. Lemons scored seven of his nine points in the second half but finished with five steals and five rebounds overall.
“Defensively, our guys played really well,” Helfer said. “I thought we anticipated great—we had 13 steals for the game. I thought overall we took a couple steps forward today and I think that will really help us as we go on.”
ASU shot 43.8 percent from the floor overall, while the Blazers made 43.3 percent of their field goals in the game.
The Blazers got 12 points from junior forward Jeff Nibo, 10 points and eight rebounds from senior forward James Spencer and 10 points from Savannah State transfer Jeremiah Hill.
ASU got a double-double from junior forward Earl Farnum (17 points, 10 rebounds), 12 points from junior guard Stephen Shaw, and six points and 14 rebounds from the big man Chris Wheeler.
ASU also outrebounded the Blazers 48-39.
“Albany State—the one trait of their program over the years is that their kids are scrappy and have a lot of pride and play extremely hard,” Helfer said.
The Blazers will have six days off before returning to their home floor against Southeastern Nov. 21.
“Southeastern is a good team,” Helfer said. “We’ve really got to make sure that we get better and continue to make steps as we go forward.”
Tip-off for Friday’s game against Southeastern is scheduled for 8 p.m.