Valdosta State (3-0) used an explosive second-half surge to knock off Carver Bible (2-6) 107-80 on Sunday afternoon.
The Blazers outscored the Cougars 61-38 in second half behind the play of senior guard Jeremy McKay and sophomore Blake Justice.
The duo combined for 33 points in the second half, including seven three-pointers to blow the game open.
Justice scored a season-high 30 points for the Blazers while McKay finished with 23 off the bench. The Blazers finished 15-of-38 from beyond the arc with Justice and McKay combining to shoot 9-of-16.
“We came out and knew the crowd would be a little slim,” Justice said. “I started off hot, they found me. Jeremy was hot in the second half and we found him. We all just came together.”
The Blazers won the rebounding battle 51-49 but struggled to corral defensive boards as the Cougars grabbed 22 offensive rebounds on the night.
“I was a little disappointed that we didn’t do a better job [rebounding] on the defensive end,” Helfer said. “A lot of those rebounds came out to 10 to 12 feet and that’s more of a guard responsibility more so than the big guys.”
David Murray ripped down a game-high 14 rebounds, his third consecutive double-digit effort this season. Murray’s work on the boards earned praise from his coach after the game.
“He’s really expanded his game,” Helfer said. “I haven’t seen a kid make that kind of stride in the ability to rebound as he has done in one year. It’s really been amazing.”
The Blazers’ offense caught fire due in large part to their ball movement. The Blazers had 15 assists on 20 field goals in the second half.
“We worked really hard on if you can get to the paint, to make the read,” Helfer said. “Blake scored, Jeremy scored but I’d rather do it by committee. If somebody in the committee gets hot, we’re going to use that and that’s what we did tonight for both of those guys.”
Playing their second game less than 24 hours apart, the Blazers shot just 39.5 percent from the field and committed six turnovers in the first half.
The Blazers took a 46-42 lead into halftime after guard Jalen Crawford buried a corner three-pointer at the buzzer.
Carver Bible shot 41 percent and out-rebounded the Blazers 24-22 but the Blazers countered by making nine of 11 free throws in the opening frame.
Blake Justice had 17 first-half points for the Blazers while Carver got 10 from guard Julian Brattan.
The first half featured nine lead changes and six ties. The Blazers shuffled their lineup for the first time this season, electing to start forward-center Jarod Leonard over junior Colin Cook.
“I thought (the big men) played great,” Helfer said. “I thought Colin played really well tonight especially offensively around the goal. I thought he affected a lot of shots at the other end. And I think Jarod, just like he always does, got fouled inside and got to the free throw line, so I was happy for those kids.”
The Blazers (3-0) placed five players in double-figures. Colin Cook and Larry Stone each had 12 and Jalen Crawford chipped in with 10.
For the Cougars, guard Julian Bratton finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Devante Bagley added 15 points and forward Troy Swanson had 13.
Though the Blazers are 3-0, Helfer believes his team hasn’t scratched the surface on how good they can be.
“We’ve got to get better,” Helfer said. “We’re nowhere near to being a very good basketball team—I think we’re an OK basketball team. I compliment them on what we’ve accomplished but we’ve got to recognize the minor, little things that end up being big things if we don’t fix them now.”
The Blazers will have Monday off before they resume practice in preparation for Johnson C. Smith, who visits The Complex on November 23. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.
This article was written by Shane Thomas.