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Blazers lose heartbreaker in GSC tournament championship

Birmingham, Ala. – Senior Blazer guard Shaquille Harris’s contested potential overtime forcing three-pointer clanked off front-rim as time expired.

 Just like the game’s final shot, VSU came up short in its quest for a first Gulf South Conference Tournament Championship title,  falling 65-62 to second seeded Christian Brothers at the Pete Hanna Center on the campus of Samford University Sunday evening.

 Down three with three seconds remaining, the Buccaneers sent VSU point guard Patrick Diop to the free-throw line.

 After missing the first, Diop intentionally missed the second, then Blazer forward Josh Sparks grabbed the rebound to kick it out to Shaq Harris for a hopeful game-tying shot.

 “We knew what we were doing there, but you got to get lucky, and we got a pretty good look at it,” said VSU Head Coach Mike Helfer.

 The loss brings an end to the Blazers’ season, failing to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

 It was a sluggish first half for the Blazers capped with 10 turnovers.

 “It was a product of Christian Brothers, they did a good job or pressuring us and turned us over,” said Coach Helfer.

 After VSU got off to a quick lead, Christian Brother went on a 10-0 run in the first half to take the lead.

 The Buccaneers would extend that lead to as much as 14 in the first taking advantage of the Blazers’ turnovers.

 CBU outshot VSU 53 percent compared to the Blazers’ 35 percent.

 VSU also failed to make a shot from three point range in the first half (0-6).

 Harris would quickly change that hitting back-to-back threes to start the second half, cutting the deficit back to single-digits.

 “I thought it was big. I thought we did a good job of not giving in, that game could’ve gone the other way pretty quickly. Then next thing you know were right there, but we just couldn’t get over the mountain,” said Coach Helfer.

 Harris finished with 15 points.

 VSU would continue to battle the rest of the game turning up the pressure on while keeping their turnover count low.

 Blazer senior forward James Anacreon went scoreless for most of the game until converting a three-point play following a steal.

 The play cut the deficit to just two points with five minutes to go in regulation.

 Diop soon would make a lay-up with 11 seconds remaining to cut the Buccaneers lead to one.

 CBU’s Cory McArthy knocked down a pair of free-throws to put them up by three with 10 seconds.

 Instead of allowing the Blazers a game-tying attempt, GSC coach of the year Mike Nienaber decided to intentionally foul sending Diop to the charity strip.

 The Blazers were without guard David Murray due to his left leg injury early in the first half after just six minutes of play.

 “Anytime you take a starter out in the first minutes of the game it changes your mentality from everything. I was proud of our guys who stepped in and hope the best for David,” said Coach Helfer.

 The eighth year coach was forced to go to his bench and rely on some players who hadn’t seen much action this tournament.

 VSU forward Alan Love had a timely performance coming off the bench with 10 points and  seven rebounds.

 Trey Casey led the way for the Buccaneers with 19 points.

 CBU got strong contributions all-around, with five players finishing in double figures.

 In his last game as a Blazer, Josh Sparks finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

 It was his third straight double-double in the tournament.

 Sunday’s loss marked the finale for seniors Sparks, Anacreon, Harris, and Jarroid Johnson.

 After the game, Sparks and Murray were named to the Gulf South Conference All-Tournament team.

 VSU ends the season with a winning record of 19-11.

This article was written by sports writer Chris Kessler.

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisLKessler

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