Written by Shane Thomas, Staff Writer
The Valdosta State Blazer (2-1) overcame a late push to defeat Carver Bible 91-79 Thursday night.
The Blazers led 59-47 on a jumper by Josh Lemons with 13:05 to go. The Cougars embarked on a 24-10 run to cut the Blazers lead to 71-69 with 6:26 to play.
Following the timeout, the Blazers went to senior guard Blake Justice. The Peebles, Ohio native pump faked on the right wing, dribbled to his right and drilled a 17-foot jumper to ignite the Blazers’ definitive push.
Senior guard Chris Bilbo connected on a three-pointer from the left corner on the next Blazer possession as the Blazers closed on an 18-8 run to put the game out of reach.
A lob from Lemons to Bilbo for a two-handed slam punctuated the run as The Complex erupted.
“I still think we’re learning,” Blazers head coach Mike Helfer said of the win. “We have great kids, great chemistry but when you have somebody down you’ve got to put them away or at least suffocate them so they can’t make these runs on you.”
Helfer added: “I’m a little bit disappointed that we couldn’t keep them down but a lot of credit goes to Carver. I thought their kids played hard and made some really tough shots.”
Carver dominated the paint in the second half, outscoring the Blazers 40-30 around the rim in the game. The Cougars also forced the Blazers into 17 turnovers but battled foul trouble throughout as six players had at least four fouls, three of which fouled out.
The Blazers held a 51-31 rebounding edge over Carver, including 14 offensive rebounds. Shelton State transfer Justin Simon scored 13 points and snatched a game-high 14 rebounds. Sophomore Shaun Jones also added a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“We knew (Carver) was going to play and put up a lot of shots,” Justice said of the rebounding effort. “Justin is probably the best rebounder I’ve ever played with, just knowing where the ball is coming off and going to get it. He plays as hard as can be. Shaun played (power forward) a lot too so he was around the rim and that helped him.”
Ball movement and penetration were also keys for the Blazers as they drew 31 personal fouls on the opposition. The Blazers shot 41 free throws in the game, making 29.
“We have some guys that are very good off the dribble,” Helfer said. “They’re hard to guard so that created a lot of those early fouls in the second half. Our big guys are extremely physical and they’re going to get contact. We’ve got to learn to cash in at the free throw line. We’ll work on it and get better at it.”
The Blazers shot 49.2 percent from the floor and made nine-of-24 three-pointers, five of which coming from junior guard Jeremiah Hill.
Hill finished with a team-high 15 points including five of seven from beyond the arc. The junior has made 10 threes in two home games thus far.
“He’s really showing some leadership especially being able to make shots,” Helfer said of the sharpshooter. “If he wasn’t making them right now, we’d really struggle. He’s just maturing and I like where he’s at right now.”
The Blazers took a 10-point lead into the locker room at halftime on a last-second finish by Simon. The Blazers shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half behind 10 points from Jones.
Carver got a game-high 17 points from guard Saveyon Edwards and placed four players in double figures.
In addition to Hill’s 15 points, the Blazers got 14 points from Justice, 12 points from Bilbo and nine from big man Saadiq Muhammad.
Justice believes the balance the Blazers showed illustrates the type of team they can be moving forward.
“(Balanced scoring) just shows how dangerous we can be at times,” Justice said. “We play a lot of guys. When you see teams that are that capable of getting off any given night, it just makes you more dangerous.”
The Blazers host Palm Beach Atlantic Friday, Nov. 27 at The P.E. Complex.