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Blazers start conference tournament

The men’s basketball team heads to South Haven, Miss. this weekend for the Gulf South Conference tournament after a posting a 20-6 (7-5 GSC) record during the regular season.

The Blazers wrapped up the regular season last week, with an 83-78 loss to West Florida on Thursday and a nail-biting 75-73 win over West Alabama on Saturday.

Both matches were close throughout.

The West Florida contest featured eight ties, 17 lead changes, and was not determined until the final seconds of the game when Anthony Sims of the Argonauts sank four key free throws.

“It was real heart breaking,” Billy McShepard, senior forward, said. “We played so hard down to the wire and just couldn’t come out with the win.”

McShepard, last week’s Conference Player of the Week, went 7-for-9 from the field and had 12 rebounds, two steals, and a blocked shot.

Overall, the Blazers went 50 percent shooting from the field, lost the rebound battle, 40-28, and missed 11 free throws.

The loss meant that VSU needed to win their final game of the season against West Alabama in order to clinch a tournament berth.

“I think that we were nervous, but that brings out the best of a competitor,” Mike Helfer, head coach, said. “I think everybody was ready to play and we were ready to coach so we were able to get the win and finish second [in the Conference standings].”

Saturday’s game came down to the final nine seconds. Three late points by VSU along with a costly turnover by UWA helped secure the victory.

Christian Hunter shot and connected on all seven attempts from beyond the 3-point line, bringing his career total to 195. He now stands alone in second place for most 3-pointers all-time.

“Shooting the ball has been my strength for my whole career,” Hunter said. “I’ll do whatever coach asks me to do and be a team player.”

Hunter, along with Kevin Harris, was named to the All-Conference team this week. Each won the GSC Player of the Week Award this season.

“It’s definitely an honor because it’s what you work for all season,” Hunter said. “It’s just an individual accomplishment though. I hope our team can go to the tournament and make some noise together.”

VSU tips off Friday at 2:45 p.m. against Delta State, a team they beat by one point on Dec. 14.

A Blazer victory would schedule them to play the winner of the Arkansas Tech-North Alabama game on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

A win Friday and Saturday would put VSU in the championship round on Sunday at 4 p.m.

“In this tournament, you just have to be yourself,” Helfer said. “You can’t go in there and try to do things you haven’t done all year because of the atmosphere. We have to make our simple plays and if we do, there’s a good chance we’ll win.”

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