Written by LaMarcus Wilkerson, Staff Writer
After dropping two games on the road in Alabama, the Valdosta State Blazers men’s basketball team (11-7, 7-6) looks to improve its record against the Shorter Hawks (9-10, 4-9) and the Lee (Tenn.) Flames (5-13, 3-10) during this week’s home stand.
According to Blazers head coach Mike Helfer, it is tough to defeat an opponent when out-of-town in the Gulf South Conference.
“It’s hard to win on the road in this league because there are so many good teams,” said Helfer.
In the GSC, every play is critical. Players must treat every possession delicately.
“We just have to focus possession by possession. You just have to keep doing what you do and do it a little bit better. Maybe a possession here and a possession there changes outcomes of games.”
In his 11th year with Valdosta State, Helfer hasn’t seen a group of players so driven to win in a while.
“This is by far the best competing team I’ve coached in a long time,” said Helfer. “I don’t have to urge them to compete. They are going to compete no matter what the score is and no matter where the game is played.”
The Blazers now return to comfort of The Complex.
In order to win against the two talented teams, the Blazers’ defense has to be relentless.
“It starts off with team defense, said Blazers forward Justin Simon. “As a group, no one can take a possession off. We all have to commit to every possession and play like it’s our last.”
Simon is the leading rebounder (8.8 per game) and shot blocker (16) for the team.
“If they need me to rebound and block shots, I’m willing to do that,” said Simon.
However, Simon is one piece to the Blazers’ success on the court. To win in this league, ball movement is essential.
“Ball movement is the most important thing,” said guard Chirs Bilbo, who averages roughly 4.6 assists per contest. “If we don’t have enough assists it will probably go down to the wire.”
“I have good guys around me that find ways to get me open,” said Blazers Guard Blake Justice, who leads the team in scoring with 15.9 points per game.
Another key aspect to the Blazers’ success is paying attention to the game plan.
“You just have to try to play with the flow and not try to force anything,” said Justice.
However, things do not always go as planned in the game.
“No game really goes as you plan,” said Helfer. “When you watch video, something happens in the game. So, you got to make adjustments at halftime and good teams take those adjustments and apply them in the second half.”
A good second half is a testament to the team’s discipline.
“Whenever you have some good second halves, that means your kids, I think, are coachable,” said Helfer. “I’m proud of our guys.”
If the Blazers prevail in the upcoming two games, it can put them back in the running for first or second in the Gulf South Conference.
“We got all the pieces. We just have to put them together and execute down the stretch,” said Simon.
The Blazers will host the Hawks this Thursday at 8 p.m. before taking the court again on Saturday at 4 p.m. to challenge the Flames.