Written by Shane Thomas
The Valdosta State men’s basketball team goes back on the road for its final two regular season games.
Head Coach Mike Helfer and his team will try to continue their winning ways as they travel to Memphis, Tenn.,to take on rival Christian Brothers in the Canale Arena Thursday night.
Following a come-from-behind overtime victory against West Florida on senior day, Helfer believes that his team should already know the importance of these final regular season games.
“As you get to the last week of the season, these games should push you into go mode,” Helfer said. “This is it—we’re at the end. I would think that you’d be excited to play, no matter where it is, and try to find a way to get another win.”
The Blazers will face a tough task, as Christian Brothers is 10-2 on its home floor this season.
“All home teams are going to have momentum swings,” Helfer added. “You’ve got to handle that. You can’t panic; you’ve got to really buckle down when [Christian Brothers] starts to get that crowd going and go on a run.”
In the previous matchup on Jan. 24, the Blazers defeated the Buccaneers 68-60, holding the opposition to 41.8 percent shooting and just 4-of-19 from three-point range.
Blazers’ guard Patrick Diop scored a game-high 17 points and dished out five assists in the victory.
“I think Pat’s done a good job of learning our system,” Helfer said. “Ideally, you don’t want to have your point guard as your leading scorer. However, Pat gets a lot of his points in transition, which I’m fine with so I’m happy with his play.”
The Blazers are also preparing themselves for the level of physicality that comes with big games on the road.
For about 20 minutes during Tuesday’s practice, the Blazers’ coaching staff armed themselves with contact pads and put the team through live contact drills to simulate what the team will experience around the basket.
Heading toward the regular season finale against Delta State on Saturday, the Blazers hope to mirror the win on their first nationally televised stage on Jan. 26.
“I like the fact that our guys stood toe-to-toe with them,” Helfer said. “Delta prides themselves on being so physical that they take the other team out of their game and hopefully that won’t happen for us as we go in there on Saturday.”
The Blazers will have to reckon with Delta State’s leading scorer, Terry Leake Jr., who had 21 points and 16 rebounds against the Blazers in the previous meeting.
“Leake is such an explosive scorer,” Helfer said. “He can score in bunches consistently. We’re just gonna have to make sure that he’s gonna be one of their focal points. It’s gonna be a tough matchup.”
Though VSU has won four consecutive games, they understand that winning the last two regular season games means very little once the GSC tournament begins.
“Winning the last two games would be very important,” Helfer said. “Tournament play is its own animal. But, I would love for us to be playing our best basketball come next Friday.”
The Blazers go on the road in Memphis, Tenn. to play Christian Brothers on Thursday night before traveling to Cleveland, Miss.,for their regular season finale against Delta State on March 2.