Written by Shane Thomas
Valdosta State men’s basketball will test its mettle in the Gulf South Conference tournament which tips off tonight in Birmingham, Ala.
The No. 4 seeded Blazers will look to prolong their season on Friday against No. 5 seed Delta State.
Head Coach Mike Helfer and his team did not close out their regular season as well as they hoped, as the Blazers lost their final two games to Christian Brothers and aforementioned Delta State by 30 points combined.
“I thought we played two games as hard as we’ve played all year,” Helfer said. “We just could not make a shot. But, even when we lost like we did, our hustle, our effort, our energy was phenomenal in both games.”
The Blazers’ offense sputtered and their opponents took advantage from the opening tip.
Getting off to a good start on the road is imperative in Gulf South Conference play.
In the first halves of the their last two contests, the Blazers shot a combined 18-of-61 from the field for 29.5 percent, and missed 19 of their 23 three-point attempts, managing just 55 total points.
“We have guys that can make shots that just aren’t shooting it with confidence,” Helfer said. “Hopefully, that turns around in the tournament. We’ve gotta have the mentality that we can go out there and make shots.”
The Blazers were also plagued by foul trouble during the two-game losing streak, as the Blazers were whistled for 43 total personal fouls.
Blazer guard Patrick Diop has been affected the most by the whistle as he fouled out of both contests.
Diop, who played a season-high 41 minutes against UWF, was on the floor for 40 total minutes over the last two games; a major concern for Coach Helfer as his team enters the tournament.
“If you get your third [foul], you can’t pick up your fourth 30 seconds later,” Helfer said. “Hopefully, we can get through to him the importance of having him on the floor.”
Senior forward Josh Sparks also understands what having Diop on the bench does for the team on the floor.
“Our offense runs through Pat,” Sparks said. “He’s our point guard. The fouls have been tough on us, but we’re just gonna have to play through it.”
This is a Blazers team that was not expected to make much noise this season, projected to finish sixth in the GSC in pre-season polls.
“From here on out, we’ve gotta win or we’re done,” Sparks said. “With the chemistry we’ve built, I think we’re only going up from here and I expect us to be GSC tournament champions.”
The No. 4 seed Blazers head to Birmingham, Ala. on Friday to take on No. 5 seed Delta State in the quarterfinals of the GSC tournament.
The winner will play the winner of Game B between top seed Alabama-Huntsville and No. 8 seed West Georgia.
Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Pete Hanna Center.
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