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Lady Blazers heading home early; NCAA tournament berth uncertain

Birmingham Ala. – Despite the Lady Blazers’ best efforts in the second half, VSU couldn’t overcome a 25 point deficit at halftime as they got knocked out early in the Gulf South Conference Tournament with a 90-79 loss to Alabama Huntsville.

 UAH was led by Gulf South Conference player of the year honoree Jasmine Hammon scoring 26 points and grabbed 9 rebounds.

 Hammons thrived at the free-throw line, where she earned 14 of her total points.

 UAH’s Jordan Smith added 23 points of her own.

 Coming into the game, VSU was a perfect 2-0 against UAH this season.

 But you would have never figured after Friday’s post-season matchup.

 It might have been the early tip-off or the long trip, but whatever it was Valdosta State didn’t seem ready to play at the start of its quarterfinals game Friday afternoon.

 “The just came at us and in the first half they (UAH) just wanted it more. We come out and fought in the second (half) but we just couldn’t get back from that 27 point deficit,” senior forward Brittney Nelson said.

 VSU got off to a rough start.

 Alabama-Huntsville started the game with a quick 13-0 lead.

 In the opening minutes, VSU turned the ball over three times, and UAH’s Bailee Robinson connected twice for three-point range.

 Things would continue to get worse for the Lady Blazers in the first half.

 “It was an absolute disaster, in the first three to four minutes the tone was set. The things we worked on, we didn’t do any of those things,” Head Coach Kiley Hill said.

 In the first half, VSU couldn’t find a flow on offense, largely due to 18 committed turnovers.

 At halftime the Lady Blazers found themselves down 25.

 With their backs against the wall, the Lady Blazers opened the second half with a 13-4 run.

 VSU battled with UAH all second half, going back-and-forth.

 Finally, with under a minute left, the Lady Blazers cut the lead to single digits.

 From there it became a free-throw shooting contest for the Lady Chargers, where they thrived shooting 88 percent.

 “We had to pick it up, because that’s not Lady Blazer basketball. The coaches blasted us, because that was a pathetic showing in the first half, and we rallied behind each other and you saw what we got in the second half,” sophomore guard Kourtnee Williams said.

 Free-throw shooting also played a factor in UAH’s win out-shooting VSU 43-31.

 Despite their intensity and strong play in the second half, VSU couldn’t cut the lead to single digits quick enough and couldn’t overcome the insurmountable deficit built from the first half.

 Williams scored 16 of her 18 total points in the second half, and led VSU’s second half charge.

 The Lady Chargers pressured VSU’s ball-handlers all game and took advantage.

 “We shot the ball well, over 60 percent in the second half, but when you turn it over 29 times, good things are not going to happen,” said Coach Hill.

 The Lady Chargers got contributions from all around in Bailee Robinson and Natalie Kelley, who both  scored double figures and combined for 25 points.

 VSU’s leading scorer, Brittney Nelson, got off to a slow start, with only four of her 11 total points in the first half.

 Nelson recorded six boards as well.

 The senior might have played her last game for VSU, as the quarterfinals rout could drop the Lady Blazers out of the NCAA Tournament next week.

 “It’s very tough to know our fate is out of our hands I hope things fall our way and we can have a post-season, if not, I’m just really glad we came back that last twenty minutes and fought,” Nelson said about the uncertainty of another game this season.

 On the bright side, VSU got an outstanding performance from Freshman Jasmine Mapp, scoring 17 points, and shot a perfect 5-5 from the field, before fouling out with 5 minutes left in the game.

 “She plays with no fear, that’s big, and hopefully we can get her healthy,” said. Coach Hill

 VSU entered the tournament as fourth overall seed, while UAH was the fifth overall seed.

 For the Lady Blazers, they’ll have to wait to see if their season will continue.

 VSU entered today ranked sixth in their region, but Friday’s loss didn’t do them any favors, and VSU will likely need some help from other teams to make the tournament.

 “This game hurt us, but we’ll see how it all falls out. It will be interesting to see how it turns out, but I have no control over it,” said Coach Hill.

 The Lady Blazers will find out officially if they’re in the tournament Sunday night.

 This article was written by Sports Writer Chris Kessler.

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisLKessler



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