Senior night was a huge success for the VSU men’s basketball team, as the Blazers took down rival West Georgia in front of an electric crowd, 83-76.
Going in to Saturday night, VSU (19-7, 6-4 GSC) held the upper hand on West Georgia (14-10, 5-5 GSC) in overall records, but the two shared identical Conference records.
“[Saturday’s game] was very important for the Conference standings because whoever won was going to have a leg up going into the last week of the season,” Mike Helfer, head coach, said. “It doesn’t guarantee [a tournament berth] but it was an important win.”
The matchup was close throughout, but especially in the first half. Neither team lead by more than five points, both teams were tied five times and the lead was swapped three times.
Towards the latter half of the first period, VSU faced adversity when senior Kevin Harris was sidelined due to an ankle injury.
At halftime the Blazers trailed, 40-39, but quickly scored seven of the first eight points in the second half to regain the lead.
Late in the game, Billy McShepard came up with a crucial rebound after a missed shot by Martrez Scott. The Valdosta lead was now 75-69 with 3:16 remaining.
West Georgia roared back though, bringing the game to within a point with two minutes remaining. However, they fell flat immediately after and did not score again until there was 30 seconds remaining and VSU secured their sixth Conference win of the season.
The Blazers shot 52.5 percent from the field and just under 40 percent from three-point territory. They lost the turnover battle however, 18-7.
Helfer believes that losing the turnover battle, yet still winning the game will be the kind of play this team needs in the long run.
“You’ve got to be resilient,” Helfer said. “The bottom line during this time of year is that you have to win games. No matter if it’s by one point or by twenty. You have to find ways to win and be resilient about it.”
McShepard finished the night with 14 points, 15 rebounds and two blocked shots. For his outstanding effort, the Gulf South Conference named him Player of the Week for the East division.
McShepard becomes the fourth Blazer this season to win the award, following Harris Josh Sparks and Christian Hunter; no other team in the Conference has as many different players win the award this season.
“It really show how much depth we have on this team,” Harris said. “There are teams that are ranked higher than us that haven’t accomplished that.”
Harris, who is the Gulf South Conference leading scorer, did not practice this week and is questionable for Thursday’s matchup at West Florida.
“It’s just a high ankle sprain and my status is day-to-day,” Harris said. “I knew my guys could get the win without me. They’ve proven it before.”