Written By: Shane Thomas
The Valdosta State Blazers (2-0) return to the floor Friday night when NAIA Sun Conference power Southeastern University (2-1) visits the P.E. Complex.
Blazers senior big man Colin Cook emphasizes defense must continue to be a top priority against the Fire.
“They’re athletic—a team kind of built like us with runners, good athletes, point guard play,” Cook said. “The coaches have been mentioning (Andre) Winston. He lights it up and we just have to contain him. It starts on the defensive end.”
Southeastern employs a talented three-headed monster with Winston, center Brandon Moore, and swingman Jordan McCloud. Moore averages 15 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, while McCloud averages nearly 16 points per game.
“They are very well-coached and they play very hard,” Blazers head coach Mike Helfer said. “They have some really good players, especially led by Winston who’s able to control the game and he’s a one-man wrecking crew. It’s not necessarily the case because they have some really good players so it’s going to be a good test.”
Winston currently leads the Fire in scoring at 29.3 points per game. The 6-foot-2 transfer from Washington State is a dynamic player who affects the game in other ways than scoring; Winston also averages 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.
Winston has been attempted 44 free throws—evidence of his penchant to attack opposing defenses.
“You’ve got to guard him with your whole team,” Helfer said. “The problem that you have is that (Winston) is able to find cracks to get through, and thus that equals fouls or it can open up some shots for other guys.”
While the Blazers offense has been impressive in spurts, their defense has been swarming and suffocating. In their first two games, the Blazers have forced 44 total turnovers and recorded 27 steals.
“The good thing about defense is that defense is about taking your soul,” Cook said grinning. “Everybody loves offense. There’s teams where if you don’t score, you don’t want to play. If we can take anybody out of their sets offensively, we can make it a long night for anybody.”
Cook, known primarily as a defensive anchor, showed the kind of offensive impact he’s capable of against ASU with 15 points, nine of which coming from the free throw line.
When Cook is active offensively, the Blazers are a different animal altogether.
“It’s the attention it brings,” Cook said. “Southeastern guards everybody face-to-face, man-to-man so if I can get it going early in the post, they’ll at least have to bring some kind of help—that opens up other guys. The fact that Albany State had to pay attention to my presence inside led to Blake (Justice), Jeff (Nibo), and James (Spencer) making shots.”
The Blazers will play Carver Bible Cougars Saturday afternoon.
“Any time you play back-to-back, it’s always a quick turnaround from a preparation standpoint—especially in these games because they’re evening and then afternoon,” Helfer said. “You’re just going to have to make plays based upon what you teach from a principle standpoint.”
Tip time for Friday’s game against SEU is scheduled for 8 p.m. and Saturday’s matchup with Carver Bible tips off at 4 p.m.