Birmingham, Ala.- The Blazers aren’t ready to go home yet.
Valdosta State advances to the Gulf South Conference championship title game after defeating top seeded Alabama-Huntsville 76-68 in the semi-finals round at the Pete Hanna Center on the campus of Samford University Saturday night.
For VSU, the third time was the charm.
The entered the game 0-2 against the Chargers this season.
The matchup was essentially a road game for VSU with the majority of fans rooting for UAH.
“I told our guys to expect it to be a road game. Huntsville travels great, so we tried to not get caught up in the crowd, and not get caught up in one on one match-ups, and make it a team win,” said Head Coach Mike Helfer.
The Blazers took the lead for the first time at the eleven minute mark in the first half.
From there, they managed to hold the lead for majority of the game.
“I think it’s (getting a lead) big. When you get behind they (UAH) can dictate exactly what they want to do, and there’s no pressure of catching up,” said Coach Helfer.
Both teams pride themselves on playing an up-tempo pace and it showed, as it was a close battle all night.
Coach Helfer said the Blazers were going to have to shoot well to win, and they certainly did.
The Blazers shot 50 percent compared to the Chargers 44.6 percent from the field.
“We just made shots. It helps when you make shots early, because you tend to make more. Give our guys a lot of credit, we didn’t take a lot of bad shots,” said Coach Helfer.
The Blazers were led senior Josh Sparks, who recorded his second double-double of the tournament.
Sparks avoiding his final game in a Blazer uniform finished with a career-high 27 points and added 11 rebounds.
“He’s playing really hard, motivated and smart. I’m proud of him, because he’s a great kid,” said Coach Helfer.
The Blazers were able to keep Gulf South Conference player of the year, Jamie Smith, quiet in the first half.
Smith went into intermission with just 3 points on 1-7 shooting.
Despite their efforts, VSU couldn’t hold Smith down forever.
The senior standout exploded for nine quick points in opening minutes of the second half and finished with 19 points and six assists.
“I think we slowed him down because we were smart, Shaq Harris made Jamie work for his points, and that was our thought process, for him specifically,” said Coach Helfer.
VSU also got a terrific performance out of guard David Murray.
The junior got off to a hot-start fueled from two buckets from behind the arc in the first half, and finished up with 19 points and five rebounds.
The Chargers came into the game ranked sixth nationality.
VSU advances to the finals where they will play the winner of Christian Brothers and West Florida.
Tip-Off is scheduled for 4:30 PM CT.
This story was written by sports writer Chris Kessler.
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisLKessler