By Shane Thomas
The Valdosta State Blazers men’s basketball team is back home Thursday night to host the Buccaneers of Christian Brothers University, tipping off a four-game home stand.
Having lost four of their last five games, including a 99-93 loss to West Florida last Saturday, Head Coach Mike Helfer and his Blazers see this game as an opportunity to turn things around on their home floor.
“I think it’s very important,” Helfer said. “I think we have played well over the last five games, we’ve just struggled winning a few of them. We just gotta come out and play and focus on the fundamentals.”
Christian Brothers comes into The Complex on a two-game win streak following an impressive 68-49 victory against West Alabama.
The Buccaneers are 10-5 overall and 5-2 in the Gulf South Conference. The Blazers also sport a 10-5 record overall but are just 2-4 in Gulf South Conference play entering Thursday night.
“The one thing about the GSC this year is that there are a lot of good teams and Christian Brothers is one of those good teams,” Helfer said. “They have a great coach, a great system, and we’re gonna have to come out and play really well.”
“It’ll be nice being at home but being at home doesn’t guarantee you anything,” Helfer added. “You’ve gotta come out and make plays.”
Christian Brothers enters this season without their top two players from a season ago, Scott Dennis and Zack Warner, both of which garnered Gulf South Conference First Team honors with Dennis being named GSC Co-Player of the Year. Though those players are gone, Coach Helfer still understands the threat the Buccaneers pose this season.
“Christian Brothers had more players than just those two,” Helfer said. “They are a very balanced team, very well-coached—just because they lost those guys doesn’t mean they’re gonna take any steps backwards.”
One of the biggest concerns for the Blazers against Christian Brothers will be defending the three-point shot. The Buccaneers made 35-of-76 from beyond the arc for 46 percent in three games against the Blazers last season. Four of the Bucs’ top marksmen are returning this season. Pat Graham, Cory McArthy, Harry Green, and Michael Drake combined for 24 of those 35 three-pointers made against the Blazers last season.
“They’ll always be a great three-point shooting team because of their offense,” Helfer explained. “I just think we gotta continue to pressure them on the three-point catch and contest them. They’re a very good shooting team—they always have been and always will be.”
While Coach Helfer urges his team to try to force turnovers and push the tempo on makes and misses, he notes that a reason that Christian Brothers has had so much success is their ability to make games low-scoring affairs. The Buccaneers come in averaging 67.0 points per contest while allowing just 59.7 points to the opposition.
“Their system defensively is solid and sound,” Helfer said. “When you play them, they do such a great job offensively that the number of possessions is smaller than it is in a wide open game. It will probably be a lower scoring game so we’ve got to understand the value of each possession.”
Christian Brothers won all three meetings with the Blazers last season, the last of which being a 31-point blowout in the Gulf South Conference Tournament that ended the Blazers’ season. However, with a roster that only returns senior forward Josh Sparks this season, Coach Helfer denies that revenge will be a factor in Thursday’s game.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a revenge factor because we do have a lot of new guys,” Helfer said. “I just view it as our league being very competitive. You’ve gotta expect night in, night out that games are gonna go down to the wire and you just gotta be able to make plays at the end of the game.”
The Blazers tip off against conference rival Christian Brothers at 8 p.m. on Thursday night at The Complex, where Valdosta State will be honoring its 2012 National Championship football team at halftime.