by Shane Thomas
The Valdosta State Blazers (9-12, 4-11 Gulf South Conference) look to avoid yet another defeat when they tangle with Mississippi College (8-9, 6-9 Gulf South Conference) tonight at 8 at The Complex.
In their last game against Lee, the Blazers led by seven in the second half before the Flames took a nine-point lead with 4:10 to play. Playing catch-up the rest of the way, the Blazers never recovered, falling 78-75.
The three-point loss was the Blazers’ sixth defeat by six points or fewer.
“Our focus has to be on making plays down the stretch and finishing games,” Blazers head coach Mike Helfer said. “It’s not going to be easy against Mississippi College or Delta this week because both of them are really hard-nosed teams.”
The Choctaws enter tonight’s game looking to sweep the season series against the Blazers. On Dec. 20, the Choctaws defeated the Blazers 72-66, led by junior forward Tory Rice’s 18 points and eight rebounds.
The Blazers had four players in double figures but were pummeled inside by the Choctaws, getting outscored 48-24 in paint points.
“You obviously have to deal with (Mississippi College’s) post players,” Helfer said. “We’ll have to make sure we do a good job on them. It’ll be nice for us if we can get the floor spread a little bit and hopefully make some perimeter shots to give our posts a little more room to work.”
Another issue the Blazers faced in the first matchup was the free throw disparity. The Choctaws attempted 25 free throws in the game to the Blazers’ seven—a season-low.
Helfer believes his team had many opportunities because of the Choctaws’ defensive game plan, but credited the Choctaws’ ability to make plays from the perimeter and inside to get to the foul line.
“We had some open looks,” Helfer said. “We took a lot of threes because they packed it in pretty tight. Their getting to the free throw was just good plays by their kids in the post and on the dribble drive. We’ll have to be ready for that and hopefully (the free throw difference) won’t be as out of balance.”
Turnovers have also dogged the Blazers, who committed 17 turnovers in the loss to the Choctaws. In nine of the Blazers’ 12 losses, they have committed double-digit turnovers and shot less than 45 percent from the floor.
“Two things don’t go together—that’s high turnovers and low field goal percentage,” Helfer explained.
“In the games where we have turned it over, we haven’t shot it well either so that’s a deadly combination for your team.”
The Blazers will have another test to pass when Delta State visits The Complex on Saturday.
“These two teams are probably the most physical teams in the GSC,” Helfer said of this week’s opponents.
“The No. 1 key when you’re getting ready to play these games is being prepared for the physical aspect.”
The Statesmen have been more perimeter-oriented this season, leading the GSC in three-point percentage at 41.8 percent.
“That’s pretty difficult to guard,” Helfer said of Delta’s style. “If you have a good inside game and you’re making perimeter shots at that high of a percentage, it’s a tough thing to defend for 40 minutes.
They’re better when they make shots and when that happens, it clears out the lane.”